This Lethal Weapon review contains spoilers.
Lethal Weapon Season 2 Episode 13
“He floats. He sinks…”
The first shots of “Better Living Through Chemistry” show a lethargic R.J. gradually bob above the surface of the Murtaugh swimming pool before he submerges himself underwater. This quiet gesture is supposed to shed light on R.J.’s current well being, but it’s emblematic of the entire cast. Everyone bobs above and below the surface, unsure if they’re sinking or swimming. A healthy state of mind and overall stability are major themes throughout Lethal Weapon, whether they’re in response to Riggs or really any of the characters that inhabit this world. This week “Better Living Through Chemistry” extends this mental pain and the search for recovery to the victims and suspects, as the episode prepares to get in people’s heads and see what makes them tick.
Lethal Weapon deserves some points this week because it attempts to do something rather interesting with its cast. The episode’s victims happen to be former patients of Dr. Maureen Cahill, which is a creative way to get more use out of Jordana Brewster’s character. Brewster’s Cahill definitely felt more fundamental to the series during the first season. Obviously Riggs’ mental state is still an ongoing issue, but Cahill’s role has become increasingly ancillary.
“Better Living Through Chemistry” explores a fresh take on Dr. Cahill, but it also allows her to brush up against some danger. Lethal Weapon has recently let supporting characters like Scorsese or even McNiele get useful time in the spotlight. It’s helpful to see Cahill get some action scenes this time rather than just function as a talking head. Hell, Cahill already has a knife at her throat and gets rescued from out of a car trunk before the opening credits even roll. In a matter of minutes Dr. Cahill experiences more excitement than she has all series.
Cahill’s kidnapper, Stan Oliver, also winds up dead. This certainly thickens the plot and turns this into a more interesting case than an entry where Riggs and Murtaugh simply chase down the kidnapper or are in pursuit of Cahill for the entire episode. With Oliver dead, Cahill suggests that they look into Carl Edwards, who’s an ex-con who was close with Oliver. Riggs and Murtaugh’s pursuit weirdly turns into its own “I am Spartacus” moment.
This doesn’t manage to be much of an obstacle for Murtaugh and Riggs since they run into the actual Carl Edwards not much later, but it does make for a decent distraction. The episode doesn’t necessarily explain why everyone is so loyal to the guy, but it’s a minor detail in a memorable scene. Furthermore, the fact that Carl Edwards can’t be the murderer because his alibi places him on The Price is Right is all sorts of crazy. Later on, the LAPD’s efforts culminate in an inspired action sequence where Riggs and his suspect do their best Donkey Kong impression as they scale some construction scaffolding as their chase intensifies. “Better Living Through Chemistry” has several peculiar details like this that give this episode a bizarre sense of humor that acts as a strong balance to the heavy situation Riggs is in.
On that note, last episode pushed Riggs to some considerably dark places and nearly saw him blow someone’s head off simply to prove a point. It looks like Riggs’ slipping hold on his sanity over the past few installments hasn’t just been lazy writing, but rather the warning signs of someone about to bottom out. Riggs’ explosive attitude and reckless ways seriously get out of hand this time around and it puts him in the heavy situation where Avery must assess if he’s still fit to serve.
Variations of this idea have been played with in the past, but there’s a certain gravitas this time around. It really feels like Riggs is in trouble and this isn’t some situation where the slate will be magically wiped clean after. Riggs is in a bad place without the stability and support that Monica and her son provided and “Better Living Through Chemistry” wants the audience to understand this.
Riggs’ examination happens as a result of his recent turn as a viral video sensation due to a hilarious “fender bender.” Riggs borderline destroys someone’s car for no reason other than the fact that he has a particularly pesky hangover. If anyone had any doubt towards how Riggs has the worst luck in Los Angeles, the recipient of his road rage is actually Los Angeles’ Deputy Mayor. Oops.
These events leave Riggs determined to figure out if he’s become less angry or even angrier since the show’s inception. This becomes his driving force for the episode. Riggs continually tries to curb his more violent impulses, but it’s not easy when people keep on throwing drinks in his face or break pool cues over his back (by the way, that explosive fight scene in the bar is wonderful stuff).
Dr. Cahill is put in a tough place where she holds the rest of Riggs’ professional career in her hands. Surely no one expects Riggs to actually get taken off the force here, but Cahill’s situation is appreciated and the episode treats it seriously. Additionally, when Cahill sees so many of her former patients go off the deep end, she begins to worry that Riggs is just another of her failures that’s yet to explode. Cahill’s ability to help Riggs as well as his progress becomes all the more important when she worries that he’s only a few breakdowns away from ending up in the morgue.
As Cahill peels back more layers, Riggs, Murtaugh, and Avery begin to suspect that a Dr. Samuels is actually to blame and that he steals and sells his patients’ medication and replaces it with duds. The quickest way to resolve all of this is to get one of them in Samuels’ psych ward, so the gang pulls off some entertaining improv where Riggs gets to punch Avery in the face (although this doesn’t exactly go according to plan).
Once Riggs gets admitted for psych evaluation he’s able to do some secret police work from the inside and put together the missing piece of the case, which involves a huge drug placebo ring. Riggs might end up in a straitjacket and the subject of some serious discipline, but he is able to bust Samuels and his drug stealing operation. Plus, Cahill and Murtaugh are able to get him out of the psych ward before any of Riggs’ brains get scooped out
Outside of the police work, the Murtaugh clan experiences more family drama this week. R.J. is once more the subject of Roger and Trish’s concern. It might have seemed like the three of them found some peace of mind and understanding after R.J. realized that college wasn’t for him, but clearly there’s still some work to be done.
R.J. adopts a passive, aimless behavior that both of his parents get concerned over. It’s almost been a month since the boy has dropped out of college and the two fear that he’s stuck in a depression funk. This results in some rather pained, reluctant therapy sessions, but this is actually interesting material for the show. It’s comforting to see that R.J.’s exodus from secondary education is actually a recurring arc for the Murtaugh family rather than some way for a previous episode to fill time. This material doesn’t exactly expose any huge revelations for R.J., but it does knock down a few walls between him and his parents and bring them closer.
“Better Living Through Chemistry” is a deeply entertaining episode of Lethal Weapon that benefits from the risks that it takes and its unexpected direction. The installment gets an impressive amount done, while it also succeeds to inject some gravity into the ongoing condition of Rigg’s mental state. Even without any of these things this episode still feels especially fresh due to Cahill’s heavy involvement. Riggs’ psychology may be all over the place, but at least the comedy and drama are in perfect balance with this satisfying episode.
Oh, and Bowman can read lips. The dolphin-punching dude’s stock only continues to rise.