LETHAL WEAPON continues to wrap complicated issues in flashy entertainment with “Lawmen.” Shane Black, the writer/creator of the original Lethal Weapon, once described Martin Riggs as a ninja. The current team of creators operate in a similar fashion with theme and scope. They’re stealthy but clever, precise, and effective.
“Lawmen” opens with two crimes, brackets of the same issue. The first crime is committed while a visiting Texas Ranger, Mark Irvin, transports a criminal, Wade Davies, back to Texas for trial. The transport is attacked by three vehicles, Davies is taken but Irvin is killed when he resists. Next, we see Riggs at the park with his dog off-leash. Two LAPD Bicycle Officers ask Riggs about his dog running around free. When Riggs flashes his badge and disrespects the officers, they give him three tickets, which he feeds to his dog right in front of them. Meanwhile, Trish and Roger discuss a case she preps for. Roger wants to know if her client is guilty or not. Trish explains that our justice system allows for more nuance than those two options but Roger does not agree. Either he did it, or he did not.
These few minutes tell us “Lawmen” is all about how blue enforcement handles blue crime. Some are going to see this as corruption and Murtaugh shares their point of view. Others might just see this as occupational considerations. In either case, some may argue there isn’t anything new to be said about this at all. The viewers are not cops, probably no television show can really show what real struggles of LAPD detectives, but viewers do have struggles. Teachers, reporters, executives, soldiers, writers and actors; at some point, we all struggle with adult dilemmas in work. This is Trish’s point of view. Riggs falls somewhere in the middle. He realizes no system is perfect and people, even SEALS, are far from perfect. The struggle is to do the best they can.
“Lawmen” is really about a very modern and timely sin, self-righteousness. Murtaugh is the man to watch as he moves through the temptations and towards the tragedy of self-righteousness. It begins when he gives Riggs a hard time about disrespecting the Bicycle Officers. This is sneaky because many people are going see Riggs’ side, let the animal have some freedom. Many will side with Murtaugh; why bully people doing a thankless but necessary job?
The crime scene tells a darker story. It was a clean prisoner break resourced by sensitive information. The Ranger supervisor suspects local Los Angeles Sheriff’s helped with the break, Riggs, Murtaugh, and Avery agree, but Avery knows they must be delicate about how they investigate the Sheriff’s Department. Here, they introduce a little comic relief. The Sheriff’s personnel they need to question are currently at a charity fund-raising bowling tournament. There is a picture of Murtaugh on the wall from a few years back when he bowled a perfect game. However, several deputies think the score board glitched and have drawn a funny mustache on his picture. The Sheriff’s don’t believe in a perfect game. Riggs starts a fight in defense of Murtaugh’s integrity. We see Riggs pick and choose the rules and laws he respects on a regular basis. Later, we’ll see him break into a deputy’s house, Barton may be dirty but he still deserves a warrant. You may ask, why be a cop at all?
“Lawmen” is anchored in case Captain Avery was involved with years earlier when he was Murtaugh’s partner. The short of it is he planted evidence on a nasty baddie to ensure conviction. He never told Murtaugh about it but Sheriff Reed knows and threatens to out Avery if he doesn’t call Riggs and Murtaugh off. While we see Murtaugh ride his high horse for most of the episode we also see Avery tormented over this past corruption. He refuses to recall his detectives and encourages Riggs to make sure he does it right. Avery also seeks Trish’s legal advice. She’s more than a lawyer, she’s the adult in the room.
Trish knows if Avery’s cases are thrown out, so will Murtaugh’s and plenty of baddies will be back on the street. This is the tragedy of the “self” part of the self-righteous. At some point, a person’s virtue collides with a community’s peace and well-being. What’s more important then? Eventually, Avery tells Murtaugh what he did and that he’s glad to get it out in the open. He’s okay with forced retirement, jail time, whatever happens. Shockingly, Murtaugh’s okay with it too. He thinks Murtaugh should retire for taking the short cut. Then, who would take his place, someone like Reed, a Sheriff who lets his deputy kill people because he’s difficult to control?
In the end, Riggs does arrest the bad guy and Murtaugh tells Avery he must keep his secret and live with it, the down side of revelation would put too many people at risk. We also learn that Murtaugh never bowled a perfect game; he hit 290 and rounded up. All badges may look alike but not everyone who has one thinks alike.
Season 1, Episode 11 (S01E011)
Lethal Weapon airs Wednesdays at 8PM on Fox
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Eric Rodriguez | Contributor