This week on CONVICTION, the CIU team investigates a case that hits painfully close to home. Ten years ago, a girl named Sierra Macy went missing and was presumed dead. At least, she was until she suddenly reappeared. You’re forgiven if you start humming the theme song to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as Conviction recaps Sierra’s situation. She’s been being held captive for a decade in a basement by a long haul trucker named Peter Gunther. Gunther died of a heart attack; Sierra escaped; happy endings all around, right? Not exactly. There’s a former teacher of Sierra’s currently serving time for her alleged kidnapping and murder. Hayes says obviously this Josh Fleck should go free, since Sierra’s not dead. However it turns out that, even though he was ultimately keeping her in his basement, Gunther had an alibi for the night she disappeared, so he wasn’t the person who abducted her. Was Fleck involved? Maybe. He lied to the cops and pled guilty to the crime, after all. But Hayes claims that prosecutors bully plenty of innocent people into bad plea deals all the time.
Which is where the real twist of this case comes in: ADA Sam was the prosecutor who put Josh Fleck away. Hello, inter-team conflict! The bulk of the CIU crew says that there’s no way Sam can be unbiased in this investigation and should recuse himself. Hayes, ever contrary, says she hates conventional wisdom and Sam’s super familiar with the case. And she wants him to have to confront the anguish of his past mistakes. After all, there’s a girl who is most obviously not dead that he managed to get a guy to plead guilty to murdering.
The team begins to investigate. Sam and Maxine go to see Josh Fleck, and discuss Sierra’s return. Josh hates the crap out of Sam, and claims that he was bullied into a plea bargain. His lawyer convinced him the jury would have given him a life sentence versus twenty years. So he went with the option that might still give him some kind of life, afterward. He still maintains his innocence, insisting that he cared about Sierra and would never have hurt her.
Hayes and Sam go to talk to Sierra, who can’t remember much of what happened to her the day she vanished. She thinks she was maybe drugged before she was abducted. Hayes happens to notice that Sierra has scars on her arms that indicate a history of self-injury. This means that there’s a possible explanation for why her blood would have been in Josh’s car that has nothing to do with an assault. Honestly, the best part of this scene is that Sam gets full-on slapped in the face by Sierra’s mom. She says that Sam and his team convinced her that her daughter was dead, and that’s why everyone stopped looking. Maybe Sam really should have recused himself from this case?
Meanwhile, Maxine and Tess meet with the waitress who told the police that she saw Josh and Sierra leave her diner in a car together the night she vanished. If you have watched a single episode of this show before, you know that this woman is lying, and that she just told the cops what she thought they needed to hear to help bust this guy. She hadn’t liked the way that Joss and Sierra acted together. She claimed it was inappropriate and wrong.
The investigation throws us a few extra red herrings in terms of suspects this episode, including a sketchy ex-boyfriend of Sierra’s mom’s, and the fact that Josh Fleck apparently has a history of dating (much) younger girls. As such things go, they’re at least plausible investigative paths, and they allow Sam to see how badly his handling of this whole situation – both the original investigation and the CIU reboot – has gone. He and Maxine even have an argument about his worst tactics (lying to Josh on purpose in an interview). She calls him out on his completely unprofessional and biased behavior; he accuses her of still being angry over what he told the film crew about her last week. More fights between the team members please! This stuff is like a thousand times more interesting than the introduction of another suspect who goes nowhere, but has to be inserted into the plot because the mystery has 42 minutes to fill.
Anyway, the real killer is revealed – because we all knew it wasn’t Josh, since this Conviction has yet to have the CIU take on a case where someone is actually guilty – when Sam goes back to Melissa the Diner Waitress’ house to question her further. While he’s there Frankie produces a new piece of evidence – a power bill connecting Gunther the perverted guy who held Sierra hostage and Melissa. To his credit, Sam finally puts this together himself when he realizes that she has a dozen wind chimes outside her window – the very same sound that Sierra mentioned driving her crazy during her drug-induced memory recovery session. Melissa pulls a gun on him, but luckily Maxine and several of the NYPD’s finest show up just in time to save the day.
Afterward, Sam visits Josh to tell him that his conviction has been vacated and he’s a free man. He tries to apologize and insists that he’ll do everything he can to help make things right, but Josh isn’t really interested in hearing it. He says that he’ll never get back the years that Sam stole from him, and he’ll never forgive Sam for it, either. Ouch. Sam actually looks upset which, let’s be real, is a guilt he probably deserves. He was so convinced he was right both back then and now, that he was insufferable with it, and more interested in bullying a suspect than finding out the truth. When Josh leaves prison, Sierra is waiting in the crowd of reporters outside. They hug and the cameras flash, and it’s kind of sweet, in the end.
Elsewhere in the episode, there’s a really overcomplicated subplot about Wallace’s Department of Justice investigation, particularly over a case he tried against Hayes where some confidential documents went missing. It turns out that Hayes stole them from him while they were together, but that Wallace let her steal them, because he wanted to help her make partner. I guess this is high-powered lawyer speak for romantic? Hayes wants to testify to the DOJ on Wallace’s behalf, but he’s willing to take a plea deal so she won’t have to go to jail and he won’t be disbarred. It’ll mean the end of his political aspirations, probably, but he seems oddly chill about that. He says the CIU is his ultimate legacy, after all, which seems weird for an organization that’s only been in existence a few months.
Not to worry though, Hayes has a plan, and it’s particularly horrible to other people. As usual. She shows up at his meeting with the Justice official, and claims that she was sent these confidential documents by an anonymous source. Conveniently, she has also taken it upon herself to investigate said source, and it turns out they were sent by an old paralegal they worked with named Charlie Sawyer. Unfortunately, he can neither confirm nor deny her story, because he died six months ago. The investigation of Wallace goes away, and everything works out, all because Hayes Morrison totally slandered the reputation of a dead man to help her ex skate on a felony charge.
I guess we all knew she was never going to be a role model, right?
At least Hayes trashing a dead guy doesn’t entirely work out in her favor, because she also figures out why Wallace was so chill about the prospect of throwing his political career away. He made a deal with her parents to protect her. So the plan was for Wallace to plea to the illegal document sharing and save Hayes (again), and then he’d get handed a lifetime federal judge appointment in return. Hayes is furious because he collaborated with her parents, and also possibly because he wasn’t ever really willing to sacrifice anything for her? Since they aren’t even together right now, I’m not sure why this is such a big deal. But maybe Hayes and Wallace actually do deserve each other, because they’re both kind of awful.
On the whole, this week’s case was actually interesting, not nearly as predictable as some of the others, and finally gave Sam a reason for his general behavior pattern of acting like a huge jerk. But there was way too much drama about Hayes and Wallace’s relationship, both past and present, and not enough of the other CIU team members, the storylines that really helped boost the past couple of episodes. Maybe I’m just a random outlier in the audience that finds Hayes and Wallace excruciating together, but the overly convoluted political machinations they went through this week were the opposite of interesting.
Season 1, Episode 8 (S01E08)
Conviction airs Mondays at 10PM on ABC
Lacy is a digital strategist by day and a writer because it seemed like a good start to her supervillain origin story. Favorite things include: Sansa Stark, British period dramas, and that leather duster that Aeryn Sun wears in Farscape.
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Lacy Baugher | Contributor