This Lethal Weapon review contains spoilers.
Lethal Weapon Season 3 Episode 11
“I should have never gone on that damn vacation…”
Lethal Weapon has been on a bit of a roll lately where even episodes that spin their wheels in terms of character development still find ways to be engaging and challenging. “Dial M For Murtaugh” is almost the reverse situation where it firmly pushes everyone into new territory, but it goes about it in such a clichéd, lazy fashion. The story in this entry is incredibly weak, but it’s also one of the more entertaining, humorous installments of the season.
“Dial M for Murtaugh” begins with a cutesy in media res introduction where the episode starts with Murtaugh and Cole already in some considerably hot water while they proceed to fill in the authorities (and the audience) as to what’s happened. As overdone as this device is in procedural shows, “Dial M For Murtaugh” at least makes it charming and entertaining. Murtaugh and Cole get to argue over the context of events and play dueling narrator as the agent in charge grows increasingly tired and questions the relevance of romantic subplots. It’s hardly a groundbreaking structure for the installment, but it’s one that keeps the episode moving. Surprisingly, Jay Chandrasekhar directs this episode and he definitely know how to get the most out of each comedic beat.
Murtaugh tries to fully play into the “I’m getting too old for this shit” angle when he attempts to steal some rest and relaxation with his family on vacation. In spite of how Roger’s vacation gets considerably derailed, it’s still nice to see the entire family together for the first time in a while. Not that a conflict-free interlude with the Murtaugh family at a resort wouldn’t be entertaining, but it’s only a matter of time until Roger’s work life begins to invade his personal space and one of the ingredients to his peaceful getaway is a pesky criminal.
Now, what’s really important here is that an immobile Murtaugh stumbles upon this crime when he basically gets himself into a Rear Window scenario. This all works very well, but there should never be a moment in the storyline where Roger isn’t saying, “Oh my God, I’m 100% acting out the plot of Rear Window.” This is also an episode where Murtaugh and Cole recant this story to an already skeptical audience, so he of all people should get on their case and be like, “You know, this story is identical to Rear Window. Have you seen Rear Window? It’s very popular” In fact, since the unreliable narrator device is already in play, I’d have loved it if there was a final reveal where Murtaugh made up his entire story and had simply watched Rear Window while on vacation and used that for his “inspiration.” In the end, pulling from Hitchcock’s film isn’t a problem, but just freaking own it. The episode also glosses over and excuses how problematic it is that Murtaugh is ostensibly spying on a bunch of civilians and just happens to catch a crime at the moment. Rear Window has a whole bunch of hang-ups involved when the voyeur is a cop.
Cole feels Murtaugh’s absence when it means that he’s in the general proximity of Erica a lot more. It appears that Cole has officially moved over to Erica and Natalie is now just a distant memory (until she isn’t). Cole and Erica’s sexual tension on the job continues to bubble over, but more importantly the scenes between these two feel so natural. Seann William Scott and Nishi Munshi have a real chemistry that makes this dynamic a lot easier to swallow (it’s also a little surprising to hear a conversation about the Die Hard franchise in Lethal Weapon). I’d even give the show respect for having Cole pull the trigger so soon here with his “lean in,” if the episode didn’t immediately try to backpedal from it. Thankfully, they get their shit together by the end of the episode.
An interesting wrench gets thrown into the mix when Erica’s mother, Senator Malick, pays the LAPD a visit. This causes Cole to open up about his connection with his late mother, which this season has actually done the proper legwork for rather than have this backstory get pulled from out of nowhere. It’s a strong, smart unifier for Cole and Erica. Cole and his mother may have been close, but that’s not so much the case for Erica and Senator Malick (although it doesn’t help that Cole mistakes Malick for a prostitute). She does take an unusual fascination in Cole, but in a very different sense than her daughter.
With Murtaugh initially out of the picture, that means that Cole has a big, juicy murder to handle all on his own. A dead body shows up in a deserted vehicle with an odd Cinderella element involved, but Cole and the rest of the LAPD aren’t too overly worried. The in media res mechanic gives out at the midway point of the episode and Cole and Murtaugh are left to put together the pieces that they have for their cases. Suddenly it starts to look like Cole’s murder and Murtaugh’s abduction case are actually two sides of the same coin. There’s so much going on in this episode between the arrival of Erica’s mother, Murtaugh’s vacation and the split timeline structure, that really the only way to bring all of this together is to have Murtaugh and Cole’s disparate crimes connect. A lot of the time Lethal Weapon will find clever ways to dovetail together their crime stories, but here it feels like it happens just because there aren’t any other options. It’s a concession made for how much this installment tackles.
The story in “Dial M For Murtaugh” moves steadily along and there’s plenty of general Murtaugh family neurosis to break up Cole and Roger’s crime material. The action side of the installment doesn’t go too over board and it looks like much of the seasons’ budget may now be gone. That being said, the episode still fits in a motorcycle chase, Cole flips a van (while he’s in it), and Chandrasekhar’s best attempt at the elevator fight scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
This may be a thin episode and the interrogation segments are certainly there to help pad out a scant story, but the episode’s strong humor helps make this more tolerable. There are plenty of laughs over Roger’s inability to take a vacation and how he’s treated like he’s crazy after his abduction claims don’t initially pan out. Even the action set pieces manage to work in their share of laughs, like when a physical attack on Murtaugh ends up fixing his bad back. It’s all low-bearing fruit, but it keeps the installment from being completely pedestrian. Better to get out these sillier episodes now than at the absolute end of the season.
Here’s hoping that Lethal Weapon season 4 just turns into a sitcom about RJ’s weed dispensary.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.