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Lethal Weapon - Born to Run - Review - "Cliff Hanger"

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Lethal Weapon has had a storming start to season two, with a brace of opening episodes that have seen the show at its witty, fast-paced and emotional best. What worked about those episodes was ultimately that they were complete pieces, with almost every dialogue exchange working exactly as it should and every scene flowing smoothly into the next. That's an attribute that's underrated about a good show, perhaps because it's easier to see when it's not quite there.

This week's episode, Born to Run, didn't quite have that crackle that the opening two episodes had. It's a fine episode, and one with plenty of bits and pieces that work excellently on their own, but it doesn't quite tie together as neatly, and as such can't help but feel a little bit scattershot and messy despite its admirable intentions.

Suffice to say, there's a lot going on here. There's the template of a case of the week, which feels a lot more involved and sketched-in this week, personal conflicts for Riggs and Murtaugh and some workplace drama, but Born to Run also takes on the conclusion of a big emotional arc that's played out over these first three episodes, the introduction of a new character and a smattering of family drama between Murtaugh and his daughter. It's a dense episode, and perhaps inevitably, some things don't always fit within the whole.

Riggs' emotional arc is an unusual example of this. After a season and a bit of stories for Riggs that have roughly followed a similar pattern, his relationship struggles with Palmer are the first to take a different template. It's a good story, one with an interesting juxtaposition of two emotionally damaged people rushing headlong into a relationship with different desires, and Born to Run doesn't shy away from the emotional complexity of a relationship based on such misconceptions and shortcuts. The ending we get isn't unexpected, but it's a really effective conclusion that shows a surprising intelligence and maturity on the part of a show that often paints with a broad brush, and seeks to evolve the characters rather than regressing them to where they started before.

Taken in isolation, it works unequivocally. The problems creep in when the bigger picture is considered. Born to Run is also trying to tell a story about Riggs' emotional damage, manifesting in an attack on douchey manager Phil and a moment of tempting death at the end of the case of the week - one that has some ties to the Palmer story (it's Riggs' inability to share about the punching incident that sends the relationship into a tailspin), but also heads off in a different direction of workplace conflict with Santos.

There's also the problem of time - Riggs and Palmer only got together at the end of last week's episode, and that was a big emotional breakthrough that seemingly pushed Riggs into a whole new headspace. It's not like Born to Run doesn't acknowledge that, as the whole Palmer story is about how Riggs can't just turn over a new leaf by rushing into a relationship, but the story's effect is blunted with the quickness into which it unravels the couple.

We barely spend any time with them as a functioning couple, and so it's hard to get hugely invested in the pairing in the very brief window Born to Run gives us. Especially given that Riggs' workplace conflict could have filled an episode in its own right, and there's a feeling that Lethal Weapon is rushing through story, trying to do everything at once instead of patiently playing things out over a few episodes, where Palmer's story might have had more impact.

Murtaugh's story is also strong in theory, but beset by its own practical problems. It's smart how Born to Run intertwines his conflict with Trish with the case of the week, and I'm always in support of stores that show Trish as the hyper-competent lawyer (and star of her own legal drama spin-off, which I would watch, FOX), but it's a story that suffers from time constraints. With so much else going on, the conflict has to be introduced, developed and then wrapped up in about two scenes, and as such, Born to Run doesn't have the time to explore a genuinely interesting ideological conflict between a husband and wife whose professions seem to fundamentally clash in the depth it deserves, and has to resort to forced shortcuts like the two just happening to find each other at work.

The conclusion especially suffers, with Trish forgiving Murtaugh extremely easily. Lethal Weapon gets points for a story that aims to take a different tack to the usual family-centric drama, but given that it spends a lot of time on extraneous stuff, like the pointless conflict with the new detective, it feels like a distinctly missed opportunity.

To its credit, Born to Run does deliver a surprisingly strong case of the week. It suffers from some familiar flaws, like the late-game antagonist who instantly appears to explain their motive and then spark a final set-piece like the obvious plot device they are, but the twisty saga of pop star Shaye has a lot more depth to it than a usual case. Shaye's a genuinely interesting character with flaws and contradictions that allow the viewer to develop a much more complicated attitude towards her than the typical stock victim this show can throw up, and JoJo delivers a capable, restrained performance in the role.

The episode's explorations of abuse and dynamics of power and obligation between men and women in Hollywood feel especially potent this week in light of current events, and Born to Run explores them with relative sensitivity without sacrificing depth of story (the abuser, Phil, is ultimately blameless in the main crime, and it's clever how he's the one who has to be saved at the end and not Shaye). It's by no means revolutionary, but it's a well-developed story that gives a backbone to an episode that needed it.

Lethal Weapon has set high expectations for itself, and Born to Run is a casualty of that. If this episode was delivered at the same point in season one, I'd be a lot more amenable towards it, because there's a lot to enjoy, from the compelling case of the week to the complexities of the Riggs/Palmer story. It's just that the episode just isn't as cohesive and wholly satisfying as the exemplary first two episodes, and the slower pace and darker tone allow some of the seams to be revealed here. Lethal Weapon is still absolutely in good health, but there are lessons to be learned here.

Episode Grade: B

+ Complex Riggs and Palmer story
+ Involving case of the week
+ More time for Trish

- Rushed pace for character arcs
- Too much time on a pointless new character

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