CONVICTION Review: “Black Orchid”

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This week on CONVICTION, the CIU team investigates the possibility that a convicted serial killer is actually an innocent man. And you’d think that an episode about a serial murderer wouldn’t actually be the dullest episode this show’s done yet, but you’d be wrong about that. The mystery drags, it never feels as though there’s any real chance that the original guilty party is the actual killer, and even the episode’s personal interactions among the CIU team members feel stilted. With only a handful of episodes remaining until this show goes away (presumably forever), it’s kind of a waste to spend an hour on this one.

The episode opens with Hayes, waking up at Wallace’s place after a sleepover.  The two are finally attempting to figure out how to make things work between them romantically, but their relationship keeps getting complicated by work. Like now, when Wallace summons Hayes to an active crime scene, because the murder fits the pattern of the infamous Black Orchid Killer. This serial killer terrorized New York ten years prior, bludgeoning women to death and then staging their bodies wearing dramatic Black Orchid #4 lipstick. The NYPD thinks this could just be some kind of copycat – after all, the case was quite famous – but Wallace thinks that this is new murder is enough cause to have the CIU investigate the original crime.

The most interesting bit of this episode is probably that it finally centers Emily Kinney’s Tess as the lead of an investigation.  Tess, as it turns out, is really into serial killers. She says she became fascinated by them after her aunt’s death, because she wanted to understand what makes people do horrible things.  She’s well versed in profiling, and the kinds of warning signs – abuse, animal torture – that tend to be hallmarks of serial killer pathologies. She’s also always personally harbored doubts about the guilt of Clark Sims, the man convicted of the Black Orchid murders. Sam insists that Sims fits the FBI serial killer profile to a tee.  Tess disagrees, primarily because he has always insisted on his own innocence, something that most serial murderers don’t do. They want the credit after all; they want people to know what they did.

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The CIU team visits Clark Sims in prison, and he’s an interesting character. He’s quiet and calm, but also more than a little bit OCD in a way that comes off as creepy and generally makes people uncomfortable. It’s easy to see why people would have believed him to be the BOK. Sims, however, is also strangely sympathetic, thanks to his own self-awareness of all his own off-putting personality traits. This case looks a lot like a man got railroaded based on circumstantial evidence and the fact that people already thought he was weird. Or at least it does until he calls a station and confesses to the crime.

Of course, he doesn’t mean it at all, and this is exactly the kind of dumb, gotcha twist that Conviction should be above pulling. Because after five minutes with Tess, Clark admits that he is still completely innocent, he’s just really resistant to change. And despite the fact it’s prison, there’s still a routine and known parameters and Clark feels safe there. He’s afraid that if he’s exonerated, he’ll have to leave and he won’t know what to do or how to live on the outside. Tess gets him to admit to all of this the same way that she does everything else, which is to tell the story of her aunt being murdered. (But did anyone catch the bit where she says that the man she falsely accused forgave her? Did we…skip that bit? Because the last thing I remember, was him ghosting on her in the middle of a conversation about her real identity.)

This is actually an interesting character beat for Clark – what if you were more afraid of being free than being in prison? – but Conviction drops it almost as quickly as it was raised. Exploring this issue for longer than a single scene would probably have been better than the next twenty minutes of false leads, but oh well.

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Speaking of false leads, we spend a long time with the investigation of Joe Kaplan, a man picked up for the attack on the latest victim. Of course he’s our standard middle of the episode red herring, but it does lead to a cool scene where Frankie and Tess have to use crash test dummies to sort out whether Kaplan, who has a shoulder injury, could have bludgeoned all these women to death in the first place. (Spoiler alert: He couldn’t have.)

Back at square one, the CIU team has to reassess their investigation. They decide that they need to think about why the Black Orchid Killer would have taken a decade long break from murdering only to start back up again now. They realize that whovever the killer is was probably in jail during that time, and only recently released. Everyone mobilizes to start going through files, looking for men that match up with a certain description and served time during this window. They  discover that Don Cutler, a man they’d actually interviewed during the Joe Kaplan investigation, meets all these criteria, including the extended jail stint and a history of abuse and stalking. Their suspicions are confirmed when Cutler is shot dead trying to attack the one BOK victim who survived the initial murder spree. His death feels kind of convenient, but it gets us to the inevitable dramatic scene where Clark Sims is released out into the light as inspirational music plays. Good , CIU.

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The other major story in this episode involves Hayes and Wallace attempting to figure out how to balance being in a relationship while working together. They decide they shouldn’t talk shop on “their time”, so instead we’re treated to their painful repeated attempts to find things to discuss besides work. We actually have to sit through a whole conversation about how Wallace has taken up boxing. Yawwwwn. This is all tremendously boring, which raises the question of whether the problem is the writing (it’s pretty dull), or the fact that Hayes and Wallace are just less interesting as characters when they aren’t sparring about cases or fighting their own desires. The latter is very possible – plenty of shows don’t know what to do with their lead couples once they actually get together, and take a while to find a groove once they move on from the ever popular will-they/won’t they dichotomy. But Hayley Atwell and Eddie Cahill have only ever had lukewarm chemistry at best, and don’t seem super capable of carrying this relationship when the writing isn’t there to support it. At least when the two were fighting about work they had some conflict and were generally interesting.

But back to this week’s case – the fact that Conviction seems to lack the gumption to feature an investigation where the accused original killer is actually guilty is kind of troublesome. Sure they had that one episode early in the season where the accused guy was such a monster that Sam had to manipulate another inmate to attack him in order to keep him in prison. But still – even that guy was technically innocent of the original crime he’d been accused of.  It’s unclear why the show refuses to engage with the concept of actual guilt in this way. Are the writers afraid that Hayes and company will no longer be seen as heroes if they attempt to exonerate a man that actually turns out to be guilty? It’s unclear.

But what is clear is the fact that the show’s myopic insistence on innocence for all at all costs is damaging it. It makes the stories boring – after all, they all follow a fairly predictable pattern, right down to Frankie’s crime scene recreations and the introduction of one to two red herrings before we settle on the real person who committed the original crime. This was an episode about a serial killer, but it felt as though there was almost no tension at all. And given that there are only two episodes left of this show, it’s a problem we’ll never get to see the solution to. But it’s still difficult not to imagine what might have been.

TB-TV-Grade-CSeason 1, Episode 11 (S01E11)
Conviction airs Sundays at 10PM on ABC

Read all of our reviews of Conviction here. 
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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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Keep up with all of Lacy’s reviews here.

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