Legal drama CONVICTION comes to the end of its thirteen episode run this week. While the show hasn’t officially been canceled outright, there’s very little chance it will return, given its chronically low ratings and the fact that several of its cast members have already moved on to other projects. As a series, Conviction never quite lived up to its potential. Star Hayley Atwell and the rest of its strong cast did their best with often thankless material, but even Agent Peggy Carter can’t work miracles. This final episode, ironically enough, happened to be titled “Past, Prologue & What’s to Come”, which feels something like a cruel joke, considering the future of the show (or lack thereof). But it’s also the strongest total hour that Conviction has put forward to date, and could have signaled a shift toward a higher level of overall quality. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what might have been.
“Past, Prologue & What’s to Come” is the first episode to really use the case-of-the-week procedural format in an interesting way. This week’s investigation isn’t so much about whether the originally convicted perpetrator is guilty or not. It’s more concerned with what this investigation can tell us about the people involved, namely Hayes and Wallace. The main case this week is largely background noise and, honestly, the structure of the show works much better this way. I’ve complained before – at some length –that the actual CIU cases are the weakest part of the show, largely because Conviction’s insistence on having every person the team encounters turn out to be innocent in the end is boring and dull. But using the case as a backdrop for telling us something new about characters we care about helps the episode feel less segmented, and greatly makes up for the fact that the case itself isn’t exactly must-see TV.
This week’s CIU investigation focuses on a man named Gerald Harris, who’s in prison for life for murdering his wife. Hayes was his original defense attorney ten years ago – and this is also the case where she first met Wallace, who prosecuted it. This little history lesson means that the show can delve into some flashbacks from Wallace and Hayes’ past, and lets us see Hayes actually be a lawyer for once. These flashback moments are also contrasted with present-day scenes between the two as they hash out the current status of their relationship in light of those comments last week from Hayes’ father.
For what it’s worth, the specifics of Gerald’s case are the least interesting parts of the episode, and tick all the standard Conviction boxes. There are several red herrings; a moment where we think Gerald himself might be guilty because of a shocking secret; and a cool technology-based scene where Frankie and Tess reenact some element of the crime. Of course, in the end, we learn that Gerald was innocent all along, and this wife’s death was an accident caused by a rare medical condition. That Gerald goes free is merely a plot point this week, and not the focal moment of the episode. (And the show is better for it.)
The best moments of the episode come when various characters are reflecting on aspects of this case – and others – that the team has worked together. This week’s B-plot also represents a first for Conviction – the first time that the show has reached back into a previous episode for both story continuity and character development reasons.
The secondary story this week ties back in to Conviction’s third episode, “Dropping Bombs”. This is the pretty terrible installment that involved the team accidentally-almost releasing a white supremacist bent on murdering Muslims from prison. That Sam caused a violent prison fight by convincing another inmate he was a snitch is the only reason that the vile Rodney Landon’s still in prison. Well it turns out that inmate is now willing to testify to Sam’s manipulation, which means that Sam is going to get subpoenaed, and might get disbarred if he pleads the fifth. On top of that, the revelation of his rogue actions will not only reflect badly on the CIU, but could call into question everything that the task force has done so far. Yikes! This is obviously a terrible situation for the team, but it’s a great moment for viewers, because it means that Conviction has finally discovered the value in having stories that tie back into each other. (Finally!) Not only are we seeing real consequences for Sam for his previous behavior, there’s also a sense – for maybe the first time – that each of the team’s investigations don’t exist in a vacuum, and that the story is maybe not over just because Hayes closes a lid on a box at the end of the week.
And speaking of consequences, we also see Hayes experience some herself. During an interview with Gerald, he and Hayes discuss the bombshell secret revealed during his trial – that he liked to have random sexual encounters with men during his marriage, and his wife knew and was okay with it. This is meant to illustrate that Gerald and Claire had not only a unique marriage, but a strong one, and that the two of them loved each other despite their various flaws. “She saw me, and she loved me anyway,” is how Gerald explains the situation to Hayes. Hayes, for her part, takes these words to heart about her own relationship. Despite the fact that she’s clearly anxious about it, she decides to accept the fact that Wallace was probably a little bit interested in her because she was a president’s daughter. Because he’s seen her too, and still told her he loves her anyway. Hayes is so overcome by this revelation that she barges right into Wallace’s office to say “I love you” to him too, and this is one of those rare moments where these two are totally appealing together. (It may actually be the first time I’ve really rooted for them this season, but I’ll admit I’ve been slow to come around on the Hayes/Wallace front.)
As for Sam, Hayes manages to get the judge on the upcoming Landon case involved, and his subpoena is ultimately dismissed. Everything seems like it’s going to be fine, until Wallace decrees that due to his rogue meddling Sam is a liability. He tells Hayes to fire him. Hayes objects insisting that it’s really her fault the CIU team even ended up on that case in the first place and, hey, that guy was a psychopath who would probably murder people eventually. Wallace doesn’t budge. So Hayes says that she should be the one to do it. After Gerald’s case wraps up, she goes to Sam’s office, and tells him that they’re going to have to let him go. Sam says he understands, but then Hayes grabs him and kisses him passionately. This is…odd, but eventually Hayes’ plan becomes clear. She explains that the cleaning lady just saw him get harassed by his boss, so no one’s going to be willing to fire Sam now. But as she walks away from his office, she discovers the cleaning lady wasn’t the only audience to their kiss, Wallace was too.
On one level, the ending of this episode really works. Of course Hayes would turn to sexual harassment as a way to save a colleague from losing his job. Duh. It’s 100% her. But the way she reacts to Wallace seeing her kiss with Sam is just bizarre. Is it really not big of a deal enough that she can just flippantly say “sorry” and walk away? Is Wallace angry that Hayes kissed Sam or just furious that she defied his order to fire him?
Beyond that moment, there still a lot of unanswered questions and dropped plot threads. Whatever happened to Frankie’s prison boyfriend? Did that guy Tess accused of murder ever forgive her (or even see her again)? Is Maxine still sober? These are perhaps understandable absences, given that the series probably wasn’t given much, if any, time to wrap things up. And this episode, for the first time, gives us hope that the show might have revisited all those storylines in more meaningful ways down the line. But we’ll (probably) never know now.
At various moments throughout the season, and especially in this finale, you could see the splashy, soapy good time that Conviction wanted to be, underneath its legal drama framework. And we’d probably have all had a better go of it if everyone had accepted from the beginning that this was never going to be a prestige drama. Had Conviction had relentlessly embraced its inner Scandal, we’d probably still be watching next week.
Season 1, Episode 13 (S01E13)
Show Titles airs Sundays 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