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Lethal Weapon - El Gringo Loco - Review - "The Boys are Back in Town"

It's been a while.

Six months seems like a long time in 2017, so it's helpful that this season premiere of Lethal Weapon kicked off with a recap of where we left off in March, with Riggs careening into Mexico on a revenge mission with Murtaugh hot on his tail. It was a bold move for a show so comfortable in its own status quo to threaten it so explicitly as its season cliffhanger, so it left Lethal Weapon with a tough test as it returned for its sophomore year, having to both tie up an emotionally loaded loose end from season while bringing things back to normal right off the bat.

Thankfully, Lethal Weapon has come a long way since its tentative start a year ago, and El Gringo Loco is well up to the task of both providing satisfying closure for season one while opening up new stories for Riggs and Murtaugh's second year on the force. It's a confident and energetic season premiere that understands precisely what hooked viewers on this show in the first place and uses it to push into intriguing new territory for its central characters.

El Gringo Loco's central plotline is essentially an epilogue to season one that tidies up any dangling plot threads left from the first year's overarching story about the Mexican cartel. The choice to begin in media res in a story we're already familiar with as opposed to wiping the slate clean is one that pays dividends for this premiere, because it means it can hit the ground running with little to no time spent on setup. Before the opening title card hits, El Gringo Loco speeds through character reintroductions, a large-scale firefight, the capture of season one's Big Bad, a horrible accident involving a car boot, and a pretty big emotional breakthrough for Riggs and Murtaugh.

Not to dismiss the rest of what that opening sequence offers, but it's that last bit that's really worth paying attention to, where Murtaugh says those three little words to Riggs. This is actually pretty thorny territory for the show, as introducing the idea of love into an obviously platonic relationship has been fuel for far too many gay panic jokes in past films and TV, but El Gringo Loco deals with the L word surprisingly well.

For one, the jokes made about that confession are never about the fact that Murtaugh could feel platonic love for a man - they're more about how Riggs is way too repressed to reciprocate and how differently the two men deal with their emotions. It's nice to have such an openly emotional friendship between two men on TV (God knows they're way too rare), and Murtaugh's confession, though played for comedy, is a genuine step forward for their partnership that changes their dynamic for the rest of the season.

After all, it's Riggs and Murtaugh, and the chemistry shared by Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans, that has kept the viewers still watching tuning in week in, week out - far more so than the actual police work that ostensibly dominates the show. El Gringo Loco intelligently understands that, and opens the door for some fun developments between the two detectives in the coming season.  Have I overthought a simple joke? Maybe. It wouldn't be the first time. But the fact that you can now overthink Lethal Weapon now is a sign of progress, at least.

As with season one, El Gringo Loco also sequestered Riggs and Murtaugh off for their own individual conflicts, revolving around the familiar themes of family and grief. They're a little different, though, to how they were done in season one. Murtaugh's family has undergone some major changes in the interim between seasons, with the two kids evidently growing up fast and Trish further asserting herself as a character with her own developed inner life and point of view as opposed to the prop in Murtaugh's story she was last year.

His journey here, then, is one of catching up, of understanding the necessity for change in his family and moving past his own neuroses and rigidity. It's by no means a particularly intense character conflict, but as a way to ease us into a slightly altered status quo for the Murtaugh family, and to lightly poke at the conservative nature of Murtaugh's character, it works just fine.

Riggs' story, on the other hand, is about preparing us for chapter two of the show's most fleshed-out character arc, and it's much more plugged into the central police-work story of tracking down the killer of cartel boss Tito Flores. El Gringo Loco does a good job of circumventing some particularly tiresome cliches in Riggs' revenge story - he doesn't get the chance to kill Tito, which means his arc isn't dealing with the emptiness of revenge, but instead figuring out how to process the fact that he didn't get to end his tormenter on his own terms, and as such, moves past retreads of his season one character arc and into new emotional territory for him.

His journey this year is evidently going to be about finally making steps to move on beyond Miranda, and it's a theme that El Gringo Loco treats with sensitivity. His scenes with Dr Cahill are especially resonant, opening up the frustrating, immovable nature of grief that remains pervasive even when every single physical source of it has been shut off and buried (the more openly friendly dynamic they have together is also a nice step forward from his reticence in season one).

And it's that final scene in the graveyard that's the quiet emotional highpoint of the episode, with Clayne Crawford powerfully communicating Riggs' melancholic state as he strides further towards happiness and further away from the memory of his wife. It'd have felt tired to just cover Riggs' spiral over grief again in season two, and dismissive to move past it entirely, so the place that Riggs reaches here, where he's happier but still aching, is a satisfying middle ground.

It's almost easy to forget the central story here of the cartel, to be honest. That's not necessarily a mark against a well-executed plotline that works because of its accelerated storytelling, speeding through antagonists and mysteries that could have made up several episodes of a more restrained drama in a way that somewhat excuses the lack of detail afforded to the cartel and antagonist Raul Mendes.

The cartel plot also benefits from some really strong action sequences which reclaim a little bit of the early-days craziness that Lethal Weapon lost a little of towards the end of season one. This show has always worked best when it builds to ridiculous and implausible set-pieces, and the final shootout in the church (grenade belts! Window destruction! Rocket launchers! Phone calls!) ticks those boxes admirably.

Admittedly, though, the cartel story is the weakest part of El Gringo Loco. The same fleet-footed pacing that makes it entertaining also leads to some slightly wonky plotting where new characters are introduced only to be almost instantly discarded and where the cartel goes from a multi-faceted web of crime that has factions everywhere to a group of men at a church who go down because of one testimony. It's great to see Lethal Weapon tell stories outside its procedural comfort zone, but it's a comfort zone for a reason - this show has cracked how to tell a three-act crime story, but seems uncertain when it edges outside of that traditional plot structure.

All in all, El Gringo Loco gets season two off to a very promising start. Lethal Weapon has come a long way in a year, and the way in which the premiere blends the energy and bombast of the series plot with the more complex character-driven focus it developed later in the first season is a potent reminder of that. It's good to have this show back. I've missed it more than I thought I had.

Episode Grade: A-

+ Riggs and Murtaugh take a step forward
+ Evolutions from season one
+ Fun action and fast pace

- Messy storytelling at times with the cartel plotline

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