BULL Review: “Never Saw the Sign”


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The fact that procedurals are often predictable doesn’t always mean that they aren’t enjoyable. In House, we always knew that Dr. House would get his diagnosis and most likely miraculously save a life, but Hugh Laurie’s acerbic performance was enough to carry even the most obvious plotlines. In Law & Order: SVU, we know there’s going to be a verdict at the end of the episode, but since the show increasingly deals in shades of grey, we don’t always know in whose favor it will be. However, in , there’s never any doubt that Bull will win the case, and Michael Weatherly, although very capable and certainly handsome, can’t elevate the show past a middling distraction. This week we get another intermittently amusing, but ultimately bland and forgettable entry in the series.


I watched this episode with my dad and it was interesting to hear a newcomer’s take on the show. His main complaint? Dr. Bull is too perfect. This week, we see that Bull is a ladies’ man—he flirts with an attractive judge, insinuating to Marissa that he’s slept with her—but that he’d also make an amazing father, as he bonds with his client of the week’s son and gives him priceless parenting advice. He also seems to be able to read people’s minds, taking a risky gamble that none of the jurors would remember a sign hanging in the courtroom, and deducing that Marissa is sleeping with her ex-husband, a fact genius hacker Cable and former FBI agent Danny couldn’t figure out, by the colors of the clothes she’s been wearing. If I may indulge in one more House comparison, House was almost impossibly brilliant, but he was a jerk, unable to connect with others or maintain meaningful relationships outside his friendship with Wilson.

It didn’t help that certain aspects of this week’s case could have been defined clearer. Loving father John Phillips is put on trial for vehicular manslaughter, after a car accident after his son Carter’s baseball game results in his wife’s death. It’s a clear, tragic accident, although a fight John got in with Carter’s baseball coach could make a case for John driving while agitated, but the D.A. presses charges anyways. The D.A. was pressured into filing charges by his golf buddy, state assemblyman Trevor Dormit, a sponsor of a big road improvement bill who’s up for reelection. Somehow, if the D.A. gets a guilty verdict, it will benefit Dormit and his roads bill. How, I’m not exactly sure. John gets into an accident because he gets caught in traffic and doesn’t stop in time. Maybe the traffic was caused by the roads bill?


Anyways, Bull agrees to help John as a personal favor to the pretty Judge Lamkin, who’s court he’s trying a case in the next month. He goads Dormit into taking the stand, as he believes if he testifies, they can prove to the jury that John is being brought up on trumped up charges to satisfy a political agenda. The lawyer this week is an inexperienced Legal Aid attorney named Gil—why they don’t just use Benny isn’t clear, as he’s hanging around this week. The kooky question Bull thinks up for voir dire this week is “do you prefer cooking or baking?” Bull wants those who prefer cooking—baking requires attention to detail, and they want people who care more about the bigger picture, as people who get too caught up on details won’t be able to let go of the fact that there was a sign warning drivers to slow down right before the crash.

As always, there’s one juror who the team is worried about. This week, it’s Arthur Jolene, an avid bird watcher who just can’t let the sign thing go. It doesn’t matter that Dormit forced the D.A. to press charges. It doesn’t matter that the only reason John got in a fight with the coach was because he was trying to protect his special needs son. All that matters is the damn sign. Bull and his team get a break when Cable learns that a local hacker hacked into the digital sign, changing it to “No Need to Read” as a dig at Dormit demolishing a library to build a highway overpass. If Gil can prove that the sign didn’t tell John to slow down, Arthur will be convinced that John didn’t do anything wrong.


The issue is that John doesn’t remember seeing the sign at all. He has no idea what it said, so the fact that it was hacked is irrelevant. The prosecution argues that this shows that he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. But Bull anticipated this and prepares a typically out there yet brilliant closing argument. He has Gil remove a sign hanging from the courtroom and challenges the jurors to tell him what it said. After all, they’ve been staring at it every day for the past week. The point is that our brains see thousands of things each day and have learned to only process important information. John’s brain saw the sign, but since it was irrelevant to him, he didn’t create that memory. It’s a very effective demonstration—even the judge doesn’t know what the sign is supposed to say.

So, of course, Bull wins and John is acquitted. Judge Lamkin decides to run against Dormit for his state assembly seat. John learns to appreciate his son for the skills he does have, rather than focus all his efforts on making him a good baseball player. It’s a typical Bull happy ending. It’s just hard to celebrate the wins when there are no losses to compare them to.


Season 1, Episode 7 (S01E07)
Bull airs Tuesdays at 9PM on CBS

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Jennifer lives for two things: spreading the “Superstore” gospel and themed “Law & Order: SVU” marathons on USA.
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