Good news: The third episode of CONVICTION has some of its strongest and most intriguing character work yet, as the CIU team divides over a difficult and disturbing new case. Unfortunately, this episode also features the worst “case-of-the-week” storyline yet, complete with a hate-spewing bigot and a far-too-convenient resolution.
While on the red carpet for some event, Hayes and Wallace are questioned by the press about the recent success of the CIU. Hayes seems weirdly affronted by the fact that the general public seems to think that her team is a sort of hyper-localized version of the Innocence Project, and takes it upon herself to find a case that epitomizes the moral quandary of whether “bad people” deserve justice too. Hayes decides that her team is going to tackle the case of Rodney Landon, a “political activist” with rather loud and uncomfortable views about Muslims. He was convicted of bombing a mosque and killing four people. But Hayes insists that she’s not here to just save poster boys, and Landon’s case deserves a second look.
Conviction really goes above and beyond to make sure we all know that Landon is a terrible person. Really, really terrible. He’s openly bigoted against Muslims, calling them terrorists, saying their religion is a militant movement working to take over the world, and claiming that they need to be eradicated from the earth. He insists that he’s innocent, and was targeted solely because he said some things people didn’t like.. And his main argument in favor of his innocence? If he’d done it, he’d have had a higher body count. He argues that his original plan was to blow up a different mosque and kill a lot more people than just four. He’s awful, in a seriously evil Hannibal Lecter-style way, and as a viewer it’s hard not to resent Hayes a little bit for dragging us all into this mess.
Naturally, the CIU team’s investigation inevitably uncovers some flaws in the original prosecution, not the least of which is the fact that the bomb residue discovered on Landon’s clothes may indicate that he didn’t build the device used in the attack. They also discover that the city’s Counterterrorism Unit searched his home without a warrant, where they found a journal full of hate speech and plans to blow up a mosque. Unfortunately, without a warrant all that evidence is inadmissible in court because it was obtained illegally, so it’s looking like Landon may go free.
Hayes’ team is horrified, and several of them assert that they can’t imagine putting a monster like this back on the streets. Frankie even threatens to quit over it. There’s basically a team mutiny, in a wonderfully tense scene that finally clicked this group together as an ensemble for me. More of the CIU team fighting in the future, please! In fact, this scene is so good I would have preferred this episode spent less time on the actual particulars of this one case and more on this intra-team squabble about the natures and limits of justice. Everyone has valid concerns and points to make, and devoting more time to the competing arguments would have made this episode feel more nuanced.
This week, Hayes’ character is back to the mouthy, inappropriate bad girl who likes to talk about how she doesn’t wear underwear and acts out at the slightest provocation. It kind of feels like backsliding after last week’s episode, particularly in that there’s no real catalyst for this behavior besides the fact that Wallace implied to a reporter that Hayes might have matured past her party girl past. Does Hayes want to be seen as a continual screw up? Apparently.
Anyway, thanks to an unrelated conversation that mentions her father, Hayes has a sudden revelation about this week’s case. Apparently President Morrison was something of a philanderer, and she correctly assumes that the imam who was killed was similarly friendly with some of the young women he worked with. They get a warrant to search his widow’s house, and suddenly it is revealed that she was responsible for the bombing. It was meant as retaliation for his affair(s).
To be quite honest – after all the emotions this episode’s “case of the week” story riled up, this resolution feels almost laughably contrived. From Hayes’ sudden light-bulb moment realization that hey, her dad cheated so maybe this guy did too, to the fact that the guilty woman actually kept the bag she’d transported a bomb in inside her own closet for several years after her crime? It just all feels too convenient.
While we’re talking about things that are just a little too convenient, let’s discuss Hayes and her relationship with Wallace. The two butt heads several times over the course of this episode, on everything from the case she’s chosen to investigate to how she’s running her team. During all this, a few more tidbits about their past together are revealed. As most of us suspected, the two seem to have been romantically involved, and it looks as though Hayes was the one that ended things between them. Or per Wallace’s description of events, Hayes managed to get herself fired in Chicago and abandon their relationship at the same time. All because, he says, she couldn’t handle that things were going well for her, or for them. This feels like a super accurate description of Hayes’ general behavior pattern, so it’s probably true. But by the end of this week’s episode, they’ve both apologized to each other enough to share a rather aggressive make-out session. Before things can get too steamy, however, they’re interrupted by a breaking news alert. Someone has leaked how Hayes actually got her job – as well as video of her in jail – to the local news. Yikes. Did Sam leak it as some kind of retaliation for the Landon case? Did someone else find it? I’m finally excited for next week!
“Dropping Bombs” ends with what is clearly meant to be a shock twist. Sam decides that, in light of Landon’s clear and oft-stated desire to see as many Muslims dead as possible, the world will definitely be better off with him behind bars. So he manipulates another inmate into attacking Landon while he’s still in prison. Landon stabs his attacker and – boom – he’s now committed a felony on camera, and won’t be leaving the federal prison system anytime soon. On the plus side, this is the first time that Shawn Ashmore’s Sam has been at all interesting in three full episodes. Combine that with the bonus revelation that someone has leaked the fact that Hayes’ was originally given this job to cover up her coke bust, and things just got really interesting around the office.
So, on the whole, Conviction may be finally (glacially) moving in the right direction. The CIU office, as we’ve seen this week, is much, much more compelling when there’s real, legitimate tension between these characters. But wow, we sure had to suffer through a clunker of a case to get there.
My main problem is that this episode seems to desperately want to have it both ways. It wants to pretend its having a real debate about whether or not a person like Rodney Landon should be allowed to walk free, when he’s basically told everyone he’s going to commit mass murder in the future. The story awkwardly hobbles to a conclusion which allows Conviction to mouth platitudes about justice while not actually having to live them in the narrative, as it were. They don’t actually have to release a guy who will probably kill a bunch of people at some point, because he’s conveniently committed a new and different crime in jail! They get to say that he should be released, because he is innocent, without actually having to make viewers watch a clear monster go free on Hayes’ watch.
Everyone wins, I guess – but I don’t feel great about how we got there. All I can hope is that the vastly improved character work between the various CIU team members – as well as the slowly expanding backstories hinted at for each of them – will be enough to carry us through any more case-of-the-week stories like this one.
Season 1, Episode 3 (S01E03)
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