“I want you to solve my murder.” Could there ever be a more intriguing way to open a murder mystery than that? The Irrational 1×02 “Dead Woman Walking” show the series is determined to find its footing fast and come out of the proverbial gate strong.
This week’s episode of The Irrational presents Alec Mercer (Jesse L. Martin) and his team with a fairly straightforward question: who has poisoned journalist CJ (Amy Aquino)? It’s not your typical mystery, since she isn’t dead quite yet. But she’s well on her way. And, more intriguingly, she’s one of the few people on the planet who would recognize her symptoms, given that the poison in question is relatively rare.
The plot reminds me of the old 1988 film D.O.A., in which Dennis Quaid plays a professor who discovers he has 36 hours left to live and tries to solve his own murder. The Irrational tries to give CJ’s story a happier ending than the film, as the doctors think there’s at least some chance they’ll be able to save CJ’s life.
But The Irrational isn’t really about the murders (or other mysteries of the week). It’s about human behavior. Why we do what we do, even when it’s not to our best interest. Sure, our irrationality is a factor in the weekly murder mysteries. Murder is rarely a rational business, particularly when viewed from the outside. Which make’s CJ’s would-be killer’s motive both realistic and faintly absurd. But that wasn’t the only act of irrationality the characters grappled with this episode.
More important, maybe, than the question of who killed (or attempted to kill) CJ is CJ’s reaction to the discovery of her imminent death. She has one child, Nicole (Vanessa Walsh), from whom she’s estranged. She wasn’t around enough when her daughter was growing up, and her daughter holds some resentment for that absence.
It’s a scenario that will sound all too familiar to many, outside of the boundaries of the television screen. As will the choice not to try to make amends while there is still time. Out of a complicated mix of emotions – including guilt, self-sacrifice, and perhaps shame – CJ decides not to tell her daughter she’s dying. She doesn’t want to “burden” her daughter with the knowledge, when she failed her so often in life (in her own estimation, at least).
Nobody ever knows what they’ll do when they get a terminal sentence. CJ’s choice isn’t an uncommon one. That doesn’t mean it’s the right one. And, since The Irrational clearly doesn’t want to be your weekly Bummer of the Week, CJ and her daughter work things out, in the end. Or they make the first steps to doing so. Because, yes, our decisions are often irrational. But forgiveness can be irrational, too.
The Pilot of the series focused largely on Martin’s character, Alec Mercer. However, The Irrational 1×02 “Dead Woman Walking” did a little bit more to flesh out other members of the team. This week, it focused on Phoebe (Molly Kunz) and, to a lesser extent, Owen (Arash DeMaxi). For a man who studies human behavior, Owen seriously needs to work on picking up on non-verbal cues. The minute Phoebe said she and her mom don’t fight, the unspoken “Because she’s dead” was almost deafening. But he didn’t pick up on it.
The episode’s message – to make amends with the people you love while you still have the chance – might have been conveyed more with a sledge hammer than a scalpel. But the series is still new, so a lack of subtlety can be forgiven. The show will also have to flesh out Phoebe’s character beyond “girl who tragically lost her mom.” But, again, we’re only on the second episode. These things will just take time.
Outside of the team, The Irrational 1×02 “Dead Woman Walking” gives a little more insight into Alec’s relationship with estranged wife Marisa (Maahra Hill). They may be living apart, but there’s still love there. There’s a chance they’ll get back together. The door may not be open wide, but it’s not entirely shut, either. And while we haven’t seen a lot of these two together, there’s enough chemistry there…and enough potential…to have me starting to hope they can find a way to work it out.
Or at least looking forward to see how their relationship develops in the future.
The Irrational airs Mondays on NBC.