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Lethal Weapon - Unnecessary Roughness - Review

Before we dive into this week's episode, some much-needed good news came in this week: Lethal Weapon was renewed for season two! The comparative strength of the show's ratings made the renewal an inevitability, but it's nice to see the show's future secured for the time being (with 22 episodes as opposed to this season's 18 too). Considering the state of FOX right now, I think this show will be around for a long time yet.

Back to season one, then. This week's episode was the antepenultimate of the season, and even considering the standalone nature of this show, you'd hope for a little bit of gathering momentum as the show heads into the big finish. In some cases, Unnecessary Roughness delivers. But with Riggs, who has been the emotional centre of the show with by far the most substantive character arc, it struggles to find new ways to dramatise the same ideas even as it flirts with a new development for him.

The core of Riggs' story this week is reasonably similar to last week: he has a new opportunity for happiness in front of him in the form of Agent Palmer, but remains too frightened of moving forward to truly commit. I can see what Lethal Weapon was trying to do here - Riggs' grief is so ingrained in his actions that it would be unrealistic if he fell into a new relationship quickly - but Unnecessary Roughness fails to do anything new with Riggs, choosing to articulate his anxieties with all-too familiar ideas such as a slip back into alcoholism that's quickly forgotten about or some overly zany behaviour to distract himself.

 It's a further problem that Palmer herself never appears in person, which robs the episode of any chance to explore a new kind of conflict with someone who doesn't truly comprehend Riggs' grief yet, as it makes Palmer into a plot device whose only function is to unquestioningly provide Riggs with this chance for happiness.

She never articulates a viewpoint on Riggs' behaviour, never explains why exactly she's so interested and remains endlessly available whenever he's worked through his latest bout of worries, and it cheapens the story a little by making it feel like a hollow step forward for Riggs. It barely seems like he's falling for a real person, which is the problem in making a likeable but underdeveloped guest character into such an important part of a main character's arc without even fleshing her out beyond her initial characterisation.

Comparatively, Murtaugh's arc is much better, dealing with the same theme of change and progress with a much keener insight into unexplored parts of the character and with a more mature inclusion of multiple perspectives. It takes his humorous long-suffering relationship with Riggs and his job and makes it into engaging drama that seeks to explore just why Murtaugh does what he does when he, on the surface, barely seems to enjoy it.

His story may be predictable - there's never a chance he'll take the job - but it's informative that it tempts him so much but never truly compels him despite all logic indicating that it's the best option for his current situation. It's a flawed story, especially as Unnecessary Roughness never finds the time for Murtaugh to explain exactly why he wouldn't take the job, instead having it pushed out of his grasp by outside circumstances, but it's an admirable attempt to square the circle of a contradictory man who both loves and hates danger.

The case of the week also provides a chance for a bit of backstory to be fleshed out about Murtaugh's past as a high-school footballer. It's a good-hearted story that deals with the simple struggle of making the best of a frustrating situation and finding a new path in life, providing both a well-rounded character arc for footballer Jesse, who grows to cope with his debilitating injury, and a statement of Murtaugh's happiness in his life despite everything he's not able to control. Lethal Weapon would do well to find more emotion in its police work with guest characters that reflect and draw out new parts of the characters we know, as Jesse's presence lifts an otherwise poor case.

The rest of the case isn't quite so strong. Outside of that central, simple character story, it's a mess. It uses a lot of the nuts and bolts of the traditional formula to the point of retreading the same stories with a lick of paint - why is the killer always a previously unimportant side character who Murtaugh and Riggs don't even take notice of? - but it attempts to layer on a tangled web of dealings and briberies between several figures.

The result is a convoluted story that's full of arbitrary swerves as Lethal Weapon constantly attempts to wrongfoot the audience with twists that don't hit the mark as the characters involved aren't developed in any meaningful way. The killer, at the end, is someone we barely know at all, while the two more established characters, Benny and Hancock, disappear from the plot without a trace.

Unnecessary Roughness is the definition of a mixed bag. To its credit, it delivers a strong story for Murtaugh, and the patience evident in Riggs' realistically slow development is, at the very least, conceptually interesting and shows a careful eye for the complexities of his grief. But it's hampered heavily by a disparity between intent and execution, wherein Riggs' emotional struggle becomes a hollow wheel-spinning exercise and the case becomes a messy confluence of paper cutout characters. It's not a bad episode, but Lethal Weapon can do much better.

Episode Grade: B-