This Lethal Weapon review contains spoilers.
Lethal Weapon: Season 2, Episode 16
“Roamers gotta’ roam…”
Mahjong is an ancient Chinese tactical tile-based game. It’s a game that involves a tremendous amount of strategy, foresight, and even luck to become a winner. “Ruthless” is not only a highly successful installment of Lethal Weapon, but it’s also an episode that very much follows the principles of Mahjong as it keeps an eye on its many moving pieces. Lethal Weapon has turned to all sorts of unusual inspirations throughout its two seasons, but Mahjong is certainly one of the more unexpected choices. As both the series and Riggs continue to evolve, it’s material like this that pushes the show out of its comfort zone and turns it into a surprisingly good time. The show is the captain of its own ship, after all.
“Ruthless” starts off in a rather tense place when a gun buy-back program goes terribly awry. Gun control and firearm safety are obviously a very important topic right now, but Lethal Weapon fearlessly marches on with all of this. Lines like “it’s raining guns out there,” are said as the camera scrolls past hundreds of guns changing hands. Some individuals decide to be opportunists here, but the idea to steal guns with the use of more guns is absolutely ridiculous, but there’s a certain poetic justice to it.
This gun heist leads to a dead body when one of the robbers, Booker, decides to take out his partner and leaves the LAPD to figure out the “why” of it all. The case gets a whole lot more complicated when it turns out that Booker, the man who killed his partner and stole the guns, is actually an undercover ATF agent. Murtaugh doesn’t buy Booker’s routine, but Avery confirms the suspect’s claims. The problem then shifts over to how Booker refuses to hand over any of the guns until he’s done with his case.
Lethal Weapon turns Booker into one of its more fascinating characters and every act changes the audience’s perspective on him. This guessing game keeps the episode interesting until the very end. For instance, just when it seems like Booker is someone that can be implicitly trusted, the episode pulls the rug out from under the audience. Booker is in fact an undercover ATF agent, but he’s been undercover and off the grid for so long that he’s turned into an agent who’s lost in his role and no longer follows orders. His undercover lifestyle causes Booker to snap and leads to an incredibly tense hostage situation in the police department that puts Murtaugh directly in harm’s way.
On the topic of people that are in danger and in pain, Riggs goes through a very different sort of emotional gauntlet in this episode. This has not been an easy year for Riggs, psychologically speaking, but “Ruthless” highlights a different vulnerability within Riggs. Swoosie Kurtz returns as Ruth Krumholtz and she’s back in full force in this episode. It’s a little surprising to see just how much the show embraces her in this entry and how keen they are to have her and Riggs become this curmudgeon-y duo (this is also the second episode in a row that’s named after her!).
All of this material connects to great effect and these two find a sweet rhythm between one another. Riggs even figures out how to cheat at a game like Mahjong (or Mojango, as Riggs may call it). What’s also great here is that in spite of the awesome chemistry between Riggs and Ruth, there are clearly no romantic prospects between them. This is just a nice new bond for Riggs to get attached to here. It’s someone else that he gets to protect. It’s also interesting that it only takes two episodes for Ruthie and Riggs to get their own unofficial theme song, The Band’s “The Weight.” It’s also interesting that they even have a theme song at all!
Riggs’ efforts to help Ruth certainly speak to his recently sober lifestyle, but this becomes so much more. When Ruth announces that she’s about to run away, Riggs short circuits a little bit. Riggs digs into Ruthie’s business and learns that it’s her son who’s giving her trouble, but he’s hardly the villain in this situation. It looks like Ruth sends all of her bills over to her son and he simply wants to end this chaos. Riggs’ conversation with Ruth’s son might ultimately be fruitless, but it does help him figure out some crucial feelings about his relationship with this 86-year-old. Riggs figures out that Ruth’s absence has a lot more to do with his sobriety and his concerns over his legacy and the bonds that he’s made. He might be lonelier by the end of this, but he comes out of it a better man.
Riggs is busy spiraling out over losing his new friend, but Murtaugh finds himself still butting heads with Trish over his impulsive decisions. Their marital tiff from last episode spills over into this week and now their children are involved, too. It’s satisfying to see Lethal Weapon take this fight seriously and have it grow into a bigger storyline for the two of them. Roger even compares Trish to Sun Tzu here, so clearly things are serious. The two don’t get that many plots that have a real arc across episodes and while this isn’t anything groundbreaking content-wise, it’s still encouraging territory. It’s also nice to see that Riana is the one who attempts to fix this mess while RJ kicks back. Clearly his time off from college isn’t improving his moral compass any.
Murtaugh feels powerless at home (especially when his Harley takes a mighty dive), but he thinks that he can at least offer some expertise in the gun theft case since he briefly did a stint undercover. Murtaugh’s talents may be grossly exaggerated, but someone that Avery can rely on here is the ATF. Booker’s unique situation and his tenure with the ATF acts as enough reason for them to team up with the LAPD here. Unfortunately for Avery, this also means that Charlie Blum hits the scene, who apparently is an old frenemy from Avery’s earlier years.
It doesn’t take long to see how similar Avery and Blum are. The two even have matching ulcers and coma fantasies. The best thing about this is that Charlie Blum is played by Wallace Langham (most famously known as David Hodges from CSI, but should be known for his work as Phil on The Larry Sanders Show and Andy from Mission Hill). Langham fits in great here and he’d be a welcome addition if the show decides to bring him back in a recurring capacity.
The episode’s final act generates some real suspense when Booker and Murtaugh are forced to trust each other and work through a less than ideal situation together. This added level of deception makes “Ruthless” hit all the harder and it features one of the better final set pieces in recent memory. Much of this final act also plays out where at least one of the good guys has a gun pointed at them, so there’s a lot going on in this one.
The end of the episode where a chaotic shootout forces one Randy Drexler to execute the other is a real highlight, but the entire entry is full of great action set pieces. There’s a suburban chase sequence that gives the episode a boost of energy early on. Then later on, Riggs doesn’t even flinch as he jumps up an elevator shaft and begins to climb after Murtaugh and Booker.
It’s extremely bad-ass, as is all of the tense action that goes down in the police department. Riggs and Murtaugh literally need to escape from a plummeting elevator at one point and it’s one of the more extreme stunts that the two have been through. All of this material becomes even more loaded after how gun control laws have been so incendiary lately and in the headlines. This episode places them front and center and to its credit, it doesn’t flinch.
The action in “Ruthless” hits big, but the comedy in this one also really works and the episode knows how to play it to its advantage. The information that Riggs often takes naps in the lockers at the morgue says volumes for his character. The whole Randy Drexler mix-up is also perhaps the funniest gag that the show has ever done and it plays out in a totally natural way. Even simple moments like the scene where Avery and Blum trade war stories over who has the worst lunatic in their department has a lot of meta humor behind it.
“Ruthless” amounts to one of the better Lethal Weapon episodes to come along lately. It benefits from taking a step back from Riggs’ daddy issues and the other well-worn hats of the series as it begins to chisel out new history for the show. The episode’s case is intelligently complex and acts as a refreshing angle for the show. At the same time, the episode isn’t afraid to move the series forward with its broader strokes. If every episode could be this good, the show would be a dream.
Now let’s get to work right away on a Randy Drexler, used-car-salesman-turned-vigilante, spin-off series, please.