This week’s episode of BULL certainly had an interesting logline on TV Guide: “Bull tackles a civil suit involving a teacher who had a sexual relationship with her son, but Bull’s strategy suffers a setback after the son switches sides.” It’s wrong on a few points. First, the teacher has a sexual relationship with a student, not her son—Bull’s clients are the boy’s parents. Next, the son, Jordan, didn’t switch sides. He loved his teacher Susan, from the beginning and continued to love her throughout the episode, even moving in with her and pledging to raise her unborn child. Jordan is 17 and Susan is 24, so it’s not statutory rape, but Jordan’s parents are still suing her in civil court.
It’s not the most unique premise for an episode—countless procedurals have used inappropriate teacher/student relationships as fodder for primetime plots before—and this episode doesn’t offer any unique twists on the idea. Law & Order: SVU did an episode centering on a pregnant teacher on the run with her student lover before. We’ve seen similar plots before and Bull isn’t interested in reinventing the wheel. However, the show is interested in exploring the psychology that would drive someone like Susan, a beautiful twenty-four-year-old who could get whatever guy she wanted and is in fact married, to date a student, one of society’s most fetishized taboos.
Turns out it’s pretty simple. Susan wanted to date Jordan because she’s trying to a fill a hole inside her made by her father abandoning her when he remarried and got a new family—of course, Bull deduces this from a look Susan makes in court and by glancing at her phone records. People who “date down”—date someone who’s significantly younger with considerably less power—do so because they crave the constant validation their younger conquests provide. Jordan didn’t just admire Susan, he worshipped her. It’s not the most groundbreaking revelation, but it was nice that the show demonstrated the insights therapy and psychology can provide, instead of treating it like a superpower that allows Bull to read people’s minds.
The episode opens with Jordan on the football field, having just won the game for his school. But his celebration is short-lived, as someone (it’s never revealed who, which is strange) hacks the scoreboard and plays a video of Jordan and Susan, his teacher, hooking up. The case is personal for both Chunk and Danny. Danny is dating a younger man whom she has power over—a photographer she hired to help on her stakeouts—and worries that she’s abusing the power dynamics in their relationships or trying to fill some void in herself. Chunk relates to Jordan, as Jordan was planning on turning down his football scholarship to attend art school. As you’ll remember, Chunk declined to take part in the NFL draft in order to concentrate on fashion.
The personal lives of Bull’s staff have always been the weakest part of the show and they aren’t any more engaging in this episode. Chunk and Danny’s stories just weren’t that interesting. The trial was more entertaining. Superstar attorney Wendy Anderson takes on Susan’s case pro bono, so Bull’s up against a formidable enemy. Bull concentrates on getting people who respect authority and societal norms on the jury, with a preference for grandparents over parents. Parents judge other people’s parenting (so true) so they’ll be more likely to rule against Jordan’s parents, while grandparents know that sometimes people make mistakes.
The one juror who presents a problem is Edward. He seems like a buttoned-up, formal guy—he insists on being called his full name rather than Ed or Eddie. But he secretly visits S&M clubs after church, so he’s turned on by Jordan and Susan’s relationship. Bull thinks he has a secret weapon once Cable figures out that Susan is pregnant—Danny deduces that she’s three months pregnant, which means Susan had sex with Jordan when he was 16, below the New York state age of consent, which is 17. But it turns out that the baby isn’t Jordan’s. It’s her husband’s—Jordan knows this and decides to stick with her anyways, turning down college to care for the baby.
Susan’s husband angrily tells Susan that he’s going to sue for full custody. Bull accurately predicts that this added pressure will cause the couple to run and even predicts the exact diner in New Jersey that they will stop at. He talks to Susan and convinces her to break up with Jordan and instead focus on working on herself. It’s a little bit unbelievable that Susan would give up her relationship after just one conversation, but whatever. It provides Bull with an opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a therapist, which was actually interesting to see. He wasn’t a super hero or a psychic, as the show has occasionally portrayed him. He was just a man connecting with another human being. More of that please!
Season 1, Episode 11 (S01E11)
Bull airs Tuesdays at 9PM on CBS
Jennifer Trofa | Contributor