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Lethal Weapon - Commencement - Review: "Stand By Me"

Back when FOX's Lethal Weapon was announced, it was met with a healthy round of scepticism. Broadcast TV had been thoroughly burned by a spate of disappointing attempts to adapt movie premises into a weekly format, and the prospect of reviving such a well-loved franchise for television, in a police procedural no less, seemed like a recipe for creative failure.

Instead, Lethal Weapon has been better than it has any right to be. It's a cop show through and through, but one that's filled with compelling characters who are entertaining to spend time with, and one that understands the benefits of being plain old fun. Season one has had its rough patches, but it's certainly been a strong debut season. Did its season finale stick the landing?

Commencement is exactly the finale this season needed. It's gripping, tightly-paced and full of rewarding pay-offs to character arcs that have been cooking for the entire season - the best expression yet of the show this can be when everything clicks into place.

Most importantly, it's unafraid to be a character piece first and foremost. Abandoning the typical storytelling tools of police work and a mysterious antagonist is a bold move for a show as rigidly adherent to its formula as this, but Commencement doesn't need the usual format to work, as the intricacies of Riggs and Murtaugh's emotional turmoil are more than interesting enough to propel the story forward.

Season one has been deeply episodic in many respects, but it's been weaving two continuous arcs throughout its eighteen episodes - Riggs grappling with his grief over Miranda's death, and the uneasy development of Riggs and Murtaugh's unusual partnership. Both arcs come to boil in Commencement, and the results are deeply satisfying. The earlier parts of the episode allow Clayne Crawford to play an intense, even feral Riggs made apoplectic by his discovery, with Crawford creating a palpable sense of Riggs' loss of self-control in his brutal interrogation scenes with Gideon.

Yet the real strength of Riggs' arc comes when the facade drops, and the real discovery of the episode is made in Ronnie Delgado's deception. Ronnie has hardly been a constant presence, but we know him well enough, and have come to accept the sincerity inherent in Tony Plana's performance, that the revelation stings.

Nonetheless, the real impact of the reveal comes with Crawford, who tracks the slow, crushing realisation of his father-in-law's betrayal with understated power, bringing home just how stunning this is for Riggs. It's one of Commencement's many high-points, relying smartly on the strength of the performances to imbue the scene with emotional weight.

Riggs and Murtaugh's own partnership woes are an indicator of Lethal Weapon's impressive upward trajectory. Back in the pilot, their clashes of personality were broad and obvious - the tension between a renegade and a veteran cop that hit all the surface-level character beats you'd expect.

Here, their conflicts are informed by eighteen episodes of development in their relationship, so their emotional punches land harder. Murtaugh's loss of faith in Riggs and decision to ask for a new partner, however short-lived, is impactful and informative because it illustrates a fundamental rupture in trust - something that goes far beyond the understanding that the two men have established regarding their own strange quirks and whims, and Riggs' impetuous, hurting response is a believable response given the pivotal role that his bond with Roger plays in his life.

Damon Wayans doesn't get enough in these reviews, but he's as good here as he's been all season - flippantly funny as ever, but also sincere and rawly emotional where it counts. We get very little family time this episode considering the intensity of events, but the moments we do get, including the moving pay-off of Murtuagh crawling into graduation bloodied and bruised to congratulate his son, are a strong reminder of Lethal Weapon's talent in evoking genuine familial warmth.

Interestingly, Commencement doesn't opt for a typical patch-up between the two men. The first hint at burying the hatchet is followed by Murtaugh's request to Avery, and they never have a chance to have an extended, reasonable conversation after that.

Instead, Lethal Weapon suggests and hints at the inexorable bond that exists between Riggs and Murtaugh, able to pull them back together no matter the circumstance even if they're pulled apart briefly - the shot of the two men staring in understanding at one another, separated by the subway train was an excellent way to encapsulate this. Riggs and Murtaugh have created a friendship for the ages this season, and Commencement illustrates how it's bigger than any argument.

We're left, surprisingly, with a cliffhanger of sorts with Riggs in Mexico ready to take down cartel boss Tito Flores, and Murtaugh driving up to Mexico, presumably, to assist him. Normally, that would be frustrating, but Commencement earns its conclusiveness with its definitive and satisfying pay-offs elsewhere. The result is that we have an engaging arc to kick off season two already teed up, and I'm excited to see how it all plays out.

Commencement isn't without its flaws. Gideon is a fine antagonist - Matt Passmore is a good physical threat, and plays non-plussed evil well in contrast to Riggs' emotionality, but he's not hugely interesting, functioning solely as a plot device to allow Riggs to make his choice to live for the time being.

Those flaws don't outweigh the fundamental strength of this finale, however, which gets of the significant things very right. It's an emphatic capper to a surprisingly strong season of television, and a harbinger of good things for when the show returns in the fall. We'll miss you in the hiatus, Lethal Weapon!

Episode Grade: A

Thank you to everyone who has read or commented on one of these reviews! It's been great fun reviewing a show that was consistently rewarding to take a deep dive into, no matter the strengths of weaknesses of the episode. I hope you all have a great hiatus, and I'll see you back in September for season two!

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