The second episode of new ABC legal drama CONVICTION tries its best, but ultimately has many of the same problems as its first. The case-of-the-week pulls out a couple of shocking twists, but the resolution still somehow feels predictable. And despite star Hayley Atwell’s best effort, the show hasn’t quite figured out yet what it wants to do with her character.
Flush with the success of their first CIU legal victory, Hayes decides to shake things up a bit by having her team target her boss directly with their next wrongful conviction investigation. (This seems like a terrible way to pick cases, but whatever.) They decide to look into the conviction of the Prospect 3, a case that helped make Connor Wallace’s career a decade ago. Hayes’ basic motivation for this move is pretty vague, but seems to land somewhere between showing Wallace that he doesn’t control her, and a fairly juvenile desire to just annoy him.
The Prospect 3 case involves three young white men who confessed to the rape and robbery of a young black woman. Wallace feels very confident that he checked all the right boxes in his first investigation way back when. However, because this is only the second episode of this series, we already know that can’t possibly be true. And once Hayes’ team manages to determine that the boys’ original confessions were coerced, it’s off to the proverbial races.
One of the primary investigative techniques of the CIU appears to be using their own team members to try and physically recreate scenes from the cases they investigate. This week, it’s Maxine’s turn to join Frankie in the park to piece together the movements of both suspects and victim based on the original Prospect 3 timeline. These crime recreations are surprisingly fun to watch and somehow also manage to create a certain amount of tension surrounding an event we ostensibly already know the ending of. (The show should do more stuff like this.)
Conviction’s second episode also does a better job of balancing its cast. It feels like we actually spent time with every member of Hayes’ team this week, and once again the supporting crew just does yeomen’s work all episode long. Merrin Dungey remains the best of this group, and Maxine’s scenes sparkle with every other team member. Even when she stumbles, such as during the scene where she discovers she’s been insensitively discussing what it’s like for the families of murder victims next to Tess, an actual family member of a murder victim, she tries to make things right. Maxine is great, and I want to know more about her character as soon as possible.
As the gang investigates the case of the week, they discover that the victim, Zadie, slept with a married colleague on the same night she was attacked. However, she chose not to correct the police and public at large when they assumed that she was raped in addition to being physically assaulted. When Hayes confronts her, Zadie claims that she wanted to make sure the boys who attacked her were punished. She also insists that she didn’t want everyone in the world feeling like they could suddenly make judgments on her private life, when she was the one who was a victim.
When the truth about Zadie’s alleged rape is revealed, Hayes’ reaction is an interesting one. It makes a certain amount of sense that a Presidents’ daughter who lived out a huge part of her life in the spotlight, has strong feelings about privacy, and would resent seeing the media frenzy that sprung up around this woman. She clearly struggles with the fact that her investigation has upended Zadie’s life in the name of justice. However, the episode still shies away from looking too closely at the problematic nature of Zadie’s decision to lie about her rape – Hayes just seems to feel bad about the fallout she’s created by revealing it. (This is a thing Conviction apparently likes to do: Go right up to the edge of a controversial moment, but back off just before facing it.)
One of the best thing about Hayes as a character is that she’s a female version of all those problematic dudes that always end up as the leads of shows like this. You know, grizzled cops or genius lawyers who all have dark secrets or drinking problems, but who nevertheless manage to Show Up for Justice when they need to. Female characters are rarely given the opportunity to live in these sorts of spaces, to be self-destructive and unlikeable at the same time as doing good.
Hayes is supposed to be a hot mess, who’s still capable of getting it right sometimes, but Conviction still seems wary of actually committing to showing their leading lady in an unattractive light too often. This week, Hayes suddenly becomes a bad girl who actually doesn’t do anything that bad anymore. Sure, she slept with a waiter for one of her mother’s campaign events. She’s late to work. She says some rude things to her staff. But she’s not offering to do blow in a district attorney’s office again or anything. And for the most part she’s smart, thoughtful, and generally relatable. She works incredibly hard to come up with a solution that allows two innocent men to go free. She even puts herself in physical danger to do so. She’s not a saint by any means, but she’s hardly the mythically terrible “Hayes Morrison” the pilot seemed to promise. In fact, this Hayes seems a lot like someone who’s kickstarting a fairly serious redemption arc.
We actually spend most of the episode watching Hayes have various emotions about things. She realizes that Wallace and her mother are working together to spy on her at the CIU, and she’s upset about it for multiple reasons. For starters, Hayes looks genuinely hurt that her mother hadn’t just stopped by to see her new office, and accuses Harper Morrison of never just being a mom. This is clearly a line meant for dramatic effect, but it also raises an interesting question: Isn’t Hayes a little too old at this point to still be acting out the remnants of her teenage rebellion? Hayes also seems to feel betrayed by Wallace, and rejects his near-kiss with this classically terrible line: “Next time you want to check up on me, find a different spy. Because I’m never sleeping with someone already in bed with my mother.”
This is surely one of the worst sentences uttered on television this year. And it’s not really clear how audiences are meant to react to it. Are we supposed to applaud Hayes for standing up for herself? Root for these two crazy kids to work it out? Atwell and co-star Eddie Cahill are surely trying their best with what they are given, but their lukewarm chemistry isn’t enough to overcome the fact that their relationship – whatever it is – is so awkwardly written.
Despite all its flaws – and Conviction has more than its fair share of issues – I still largely find myself interested in the show. Sure there are many frustrating and/or predictable moments, but it doesn’t drag. There are much worse ways to spend an hour of your time on a Monday night. And even though Conviction may not really deserve a second (or third or fourth) chance, I’m still rooting for it to improve.
I’m just going to assume it’s all Hayley Atwell’s fault.
Season 1, Episode 2 (S01E02)
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.
Follow Lacy on Twitter: @LacyMB
Keep up with all of Lacy’s reviews here.
Lacy Baugher | Contributor