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Lethal Weapon - The Seal is Broken - Review: "Keep Hanging On"

Given how light-hearted a show Lethal Weapon typically is, it's surprising to see how much of it centres around grief. Not just immediate grief either: the grief Martin Riggs feels is the stuff that cuts deep into every part of life, cropping up at every moment of happiness, perpetually keeping him in that shattering moment where he lost a part of his life.

Here's the rub: that grief is hard to portray meaningfully on television. Perhaps a niche cable drama could pull it off by focusing intimately for a long stretch of serialised episode on the minutiae and the depths of emotion of the kind of grief that stays with a person long beyond death. Lethal Weapon is, suffice to say, not a niche cable drama. It's as mainstream a broadcast TV show as they come, with a case of the week and character arcs that have to be wrapped up in 45 minutes, and it's therefore extremely hard for it to really do justice to the power of the emotions that are implicit within its story.

For the first time since the very first episodes, that problem reared its head in The Seal is Broken, an episode that purports to dive deep into Riggs' grief as it becomes even more painful on the anniversary of Miranda's death. To do it credit, Lethal Weapon tries. It leans heavily on Clayne Crawford's performance, which is a very smart move - Crawford cut his teeth on the niche cable drama of the kind I mentioned above, Rectify, and he's able to bring some of that complexity and depth to a storyline that's written in very broad strokes.

Furthermore, the show is very good at portraying a positive reaction to grief in the form of the Murtaugh family, whose role as a warm support unit and place of refuge for Riggs is made poignantly clear in scenes. It's broad strokes emotion, but Lethal Weapon does that kind of drama very well.

Yet it's hard to escape the feeling that it's all just too tame to really bite. The Seal is Broken needs us to believe that Riggs is plumbing the depths of despair, but it constantly opts for broadcast TV friendly images to communicate this - when he's 'drowning in alcohol', Riggs is holding one beer bottle and not heavily particularly drunk, and his way of acting out at work to show his emotional problems is to wear a bathing suit and fish under the vending machine for snacks.

The concept that he slept with an unknown woman and thus cheated on Miranda is interesting on paper, but the episode soon drains the power of this big mistake by going to the same imagery and same emotions again and again with very little variation.

And when Riggs' story comes to its conclusion, The Seal is Broken really struggles in giving Riggs a defining moment of catharsis to put his weekly character arc to bed. For one, the show has already done a 'Riggs is tempted by death' moment, and much more effectively than the transparently contrived way it's done here. More problematically, it doesn't even really commit to the moment, as it ends in a ridiculous bit of slapstick with a tree that undercuts any of the emotional power of the moment and fails to deliver any kind of concluding statement.

Lethal Weapon is setting out to tell a deeply personal story of grief, but, perhaps constrained by its format, it went for one safe and palatable choice after another this week in a plotline that needed shocking moments.

The case of the week plays second fiddle to Riggs' story, which is a pity, because there are the bones of something interesting here. Granted, it's curiously similar to a plotline Lucifer did early this season, but it's an engaging mystery in the early going that builds well with the involvement of the priest character and the intriguing reveal of the second victim buried alive.

After that, though, the mystery fizzles and the story rushes to its conclusion, introducing a background player as the killer and rapidly doling out a slightly fudged motivation (he blames a priest... for doing what every priest does?). His suicide, which has all the makings of a big emotional moment, is immediately subsumed by Riggs' near-death experience, and is then completely forgotten about after. It's interesting in the early goings, but as with Riggs, The Seal is Broken fails to follow through.

Perhaps this is a more critical review than the episode deserves. After all, it's still generally entertaining, and, surprisingly for an episode dealing with some dark themes, it's genuinely funny, whether it's Cahill's reaction to Riggs, or the entire RJ plotline that carries no emotional weight but allows Damon Wayons Jr to do what he does best.

Even if this was a bit of a blip for Lethal Weapon, flunking its two main stories where it really counts, there are still signs of the show's best self poking through here and there. Here's hoping it delivers on those signs more substantially when it returns in two weeks.

Overall Grade: C+

+ Strong moments of humour
+ Murtaugh family: the best family

- An overly safe approach to Riggs' story
- A lack of sustained emotional moments
- A rushed case of the week

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