This Lethal Weapon review contains spoilers.
Lethal Weapon: Season 2, Episode 18
“A leopard doesn’t change its stripes, am I right?”
Call me Murtaugh…
There’s a reason that Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is such a frequently referenced piece of classic literature. Obsession is a universal emotion and everyone has their own personal white whale that escapes them. Everyone has some source of rage, pain, or stress that controls them in life, whether it’s Riggs and his dad, Murtaugh and his scofflaw, or Riana and her license. What’s important is how people cope with these obsessions.
The big Moby-Dick allegory is shoved right in the audience’s face in “Frankie Comes to Hollywood,” but the episode understands how obtuse it is with all of this. At one point Murtaugh asks Avery if he’s “ever heard of Moby-Dick” so it very much feels the show is winking at the audience with all of this. The main “white whale” of this episode is Frankie Kelso, a veteran hitman who’s done a good job at driving Murtaugh crazy for nearly two decades by evading him. When a dead body shows up and Kelso looks like the prime suspect, Murtaugh can’t hold back his jubilation when it appears that he has another chance to finally reel Kelso in.
Murtaugh and Kelso’s cat-and-mouse history dominates a large part of this episode. There’s even an effective, telling flashback to over 15 years ago that examines Murtaugh’s initial encounter with Kelso. It also happens to be the night that Trish gives birth to Riana (who was evidently almost named Ophelia), just to make Roger’s vendetta even more personal here. Murtaugh’s familiarity with Kelso also dictates how he carries himself in the field. It’s great to see Murtaugh take Kelso too seriously, whereas Riggs doesn’t even put on body armor in their pursuit.
Riggs and Murtaugh almost always take different perspectives on a case, but this dichotomy works particularly well this week. A lot of this chemistry might have to do with the fact that David Fury (of Buffy/Angel, Lost, Fringe, and The Tick fame) pens an exceptional script that never stops moving and absolutely nails these characters. This is Fury’s first script for the show, but it’s clear that he understands the chaotic, personal dynamic that makes this series work.
There’s a strong set piece early on where Riggs jumps from a motorboat to a houseboat to catch Kelso, only for him to learn that the boat is a decoy and there’s no one aboard. For one, this is an exciting piece of action that throws the story into its next stage, but it also shows first hand just how sly Kelso really is. Not to mention, Riggs’ dumbfounded look when he lands on the empty boat is priceless. Later on there’s a wonderfully anachronistic shootout in an antiques store and would it be that much trouble to have Riggs end every episode by blowing up his enemy?
After Riggs falls for Kelso’s bait, a vulnerable Murtaugh winds up as Kelso’s hostage. This allows the two of them to reminisce and get all personal in their life-or-death scenario. Their scenes together are tense, but there’s still a tenderness that’s present. The two even begin to figure out that they’re not that different. They even share the same urologist. This situation becomes even more interesting when it turns out that Kelso actually needs Murtaugh’s help. Kelso may be a notorious criminal that’s done a ton of terrible acts, but he’s not guilty of this recent murder and he knows that someone’s set him up. The case gets even juicier when it looks like this criminal is someone that Riggs’ father has a connection to, which brings the dysfunctional father and son into each other’s orbits again.
On that note, as Lethal Weapon’s second season begins to wind down, it feels about the right time for the show to pivot back to the fruitful well of Riggs’ relationship with his father. After Molly appropriately gave Riggs hell for his inexplicable disappearance and reappearance, he’s finally ready to return to prison and confront his father. These tortuous father and son scenes are typically reserved for the end of episodes where Nathan Riggs can really let the pain languish. This time Lethal Weapon cuts right to the chase. Riggs is ready to go on the offensive and be confrontational, but his father can’t apologize fast enough for how terrible he’s been. Riggs’ father wants to do good, or at least he claims he does, and the moment turns into a cathartic blessing instead of a shouting match.
Clayne Crawford does an incredible job in these scenes with Riggs’ father (as well as his therapy sessions with Dr. Cahill) and throughout this episode in general. The way in which Riggs tears up as his father apologizes to him is deeply moving stuff that connects so hard purely because it’s been such a psychological thorn in his side for so much of this show. It’s hard not to feel for Riggs when he tries to remain distant with his father yet can’t help but get drawn in and want to open up.
This reversal on Nathan Riggs’ temperament feels a little extreme and like the only reason that it’s happening is because the season is approaching its conclusion. That being said, it looks like the end point for this storyline is either going to see Riggs’ father dead or the two of them living together, both of which I wouldn’t have expected at the start of this year. It may be a little hackneyed to have Riggs’ finally come around on his dad only for him to die shortly after, but that’s still a lot more peaceful than how it looked like this was going to go. This will at least be a resolution that the show’s earned.
The real beauty of this episode is that the pursuit of Kelso isn’t the point. Kelso gets apprehended half way through the entry and the focus then shifts to how Murtaugh is the only one that believes that he’s innocent. It’s a brilliant way to mix the episode up as well as demonstrate how Murtaugh is quite the layered cop. There’s also an added element of drama to all of this as Riggs is convinced that Kelso is responsible because he needs to believe that old guys like this don’t change because it allows him to continue to hate his dad.
Lately Lethal Weapon has excelled at its more pedestrian storylines that exist outside of the case-of-the-week. Now that the Murtaugh household has worked out all of their marital trauma, Murtaugh gets a reminder of what his true source of aggravation is: his children. Roger is stuck giving driving lessons to Riana and to say that Roger is a little cautious and paranoid behind the wheel would be an understatement. This storyline is by far the lightest territory in the episode, but it does still provide some welcome laughs and it connects back to the episode’s overall theme of factors that control us. Plus, it’s been a while since Murtaugh has gotten to worry about his daughter and this story offers up a nice twist on their typical dynamic. Now we just need Roger to pull that soup test on Riggs.
As the truth about Frankie Kelso finally comes to light, the case ultimately boils down to dead fathers and more unresolved daddy issues. This brings a degree of roundness to the episode that perhaps isn’t necessary, but doesn’t hurt. “Frankie Comes to Hollywood” makes a strong case for the best-written script of the season and hopefully Fury will pen more episodes sooner than later. This is an installment that remains unpredictable, suspenseful, and interesting throughout, but it also pushes a story that knows how to connect to the overarching story beats for these characters. There’s also some marvelous comedy in here and at one moment Murtaugh and Riggs are straight-up told to get their sexual tension out of the way and over with. It’s hard to top that.
Moby-Dick doesn’t end with Captain Ahab and the giant mammal having a sweet confessional about fatherhood, but it wouldn’t have been a bad way for the book to go out.