“It’s day one…”
Lethal Weapon’s effective rebranding during last week’s season premiere made some big strides for what the future of the series may look like. The season’s premiere helped introduce Seann William Scott’s Cole to the party, but it’s this week’s “Need to Know” that really put him under the microscope and begins to examine how he and Murtaugh will function as a unit. This episode repeatedly underscores the importance of starting on the right foot and the heavy expectations that are present in the first day of something new, but Lethal Weapon has constantly preached the gospel of how messy starts are an important part of life. It doesn’t matter if you have a rough start as long as you can bring it all together in the end.
Now that Lethal Weapon has properly set the table for its third season, it’s allowed to really let loose and not get lost in character introductions and tying up loose ends (i.e. major character deaths) from the previous season. Many of the same themes and ideas that these characters struggled with during the premiere still plague them now. “Need to Know” spends a lot of time looking at tough transitions, whether it’s with a new partner, frayed family dynamics, or the fallout of the city council election, but everyone has difficult territory that they’re trying to move into.
Murtaugh and Cole’s first official case together puts them on track to solve the unusual murder of an executive in the world of finance. The episode’s introduction is rather therapeutic for anyone who’s wanted to take out their aggression on their smug, entitled boss before. It’s an extreme start to the episode, but it’s also a cold open that just screams “Los Angeles” in every respect. Much like the case back in Lethal Weapon’s premiere, the crime-of-the-week here feels quite ancillary to the episode. It’s not as if the drug trafficking case that pushes “Need to Know” forward isn’t interesting (there are even mystery bodies that pop up in the drywall), but it feels like it’s much more to service Murtaugh and Cole’s character development as they try to get on even ground with each other.
On that matter, Murtaugh is particularly determined to start off on the right foot with Cole and do everything that he can to foster a healthy partnership between them. Murtaugh’s attitude here is all sorts of sweet and it’s rather endearing to see how anxious he gets in his efforts to impress Cole. He even wants to invite the guy over for dinner to give him the full Murtaugh experience. In spite of Murtaugh’s enthusiasm to make all of this work, Cole continues to hold things close to his chest.
Murtaugh becomes concerned that he can’t properly build their partnership up if he doesn’t truly know who he’s working with. Once Murtaugh finally stops trying to figure out his partner, he’s able to settle in and get a little closer with him, but it takes time for them to reach this level of comfort.
Even though Cole may be “moonwalking” away from Murtaugh, he tries to get as close as possible to his own family. Cole wants to figure out what role he can play for his ex-wife and his daughter as he attempts to move forward with their new dynamic. This is something that Cole thought he was okay with, but this is decidedly not the case when he realizes that his ex is now dating someone. Not only that, but this person is also very much in his family’s life. This melodrama isn’t too distracting at this point, but moving forward, the series doesn’t necessarily need Cole crashing his wife’s job at the hospital whenever he feels insecure.
Lethal Weapon also provides some more quality time with Cole’s PTSD. His trauma mostly amounts to minor flashes throughout the episode, but details like the fact that Cole sleeps on the floor instead of his bed and that he hasn’t had a steady sleep in a while continue to help humanize the character. Hopefully, Lethal Weapon won’t feel obligated to do a PTSD check-in with Cole every episode as it did with Riggs’ daddy issues, but for now, it’s a welcome dimension to the season. Cole’s family, even if he is a few steps removed from them, are the one saving grace that can ground him and keep the darkness at bay. And speaking of keeping the darkness at bay, Murtaugh quasi-sees Dr. Cahill to further talk through his issues. It may be in an unprofessional sense at this point, but it’s a fun twist on their relationship and a smart way to keep her around in the program.
As Cole gets a little deeper into this case, further details about his guarded personality continue to come to light. There’s a pivotal moment where a botched mission causes Cole to lash out at his lieutenant after a life gets taken. “It’s not zero sum,” Cole explains to a bewildered LAPD. It’s perhaps the most important scene from the entire episode and a glimpse into the more dramatic work that Seann William Scott is capable of. This aggressive burst of testosterone is nicely balanced against Cole’s unconventional torture methods. The “torture” scene acts as a fun example of how Cole operates, but back in the day, it feels like Riggs would have actually burnt his victim with the blowtorch. This creative, safe way in which Cole can go off the rails adds a welcome new energy to the action scenes and interrogations.
All of this amounts to the fact that Cole isn’t a bad partner, he just doesn’t know how to be a partner. He doesn’t come from a background where he opens himself up to someone else to that degree. Murtaugh’s struggle so far this season has been to learn how to give himself over to someone new in that respect, but Cole’s hurdle is to give himself over at all. It’s actually kind of sad to see how much this messes with Murtaugh and that he even takes it out on his family. It does allow for Murtaugh and his wife to have an honest, important discussion about their grief and how they still have a lot of complicated feelings to figure out right now. Furthermore, it’s surprisingly satisfying to see Trish and Cole share a moment together as she explains to him that he’s essentially a part of their family now. Even if Cole has difficulty finding a place within his own family, there’s a comfort to be found in how he’ll now always have the Murtaughs. Avery also gets to impart some sage wisdom and help connect Cole and Murtaugh in his own way, even if he’s still not completely over how Roger derailed his bid for city council.
As Murtaugh and Cole try to figure out their rhythm, it’s also captivating to watch some new lieutenants enter the LAPD and further complicate workplace dynamics. These new lieutenants don’t really care how many rules get broken as long as the criminals get caught. It’s an extremely un-Avery way of doing things, but this laissez-faire attitude never really gets a chance to stick with the LAPD since they’re unceremoniously fired by the episode’s conclusion. Yes, it’s a little ridiculous and far too convenient that these new characters turn out to actually be traitors and the big criminals of the episode. The fact that “Need to Know”’s solution comes down to two bad partners whose relationship slowly soured over decades is extremely on the nose, but it does help tie the episode and its themes together.
There are a handful of chaotic shootouts and some close-quarters interrogation combat that keeps the episode’s final act lively, but there’s nothing too extravagant that comes out of this episode’s action sequences. However, some frozen sausage links get used as a murder weapon, so it’s not an entire wash. While the action may slightly phone it in this week, Lethal Weapon’s comedy chops happen to be on full display here. Murtaugh and Cole’s chemistry continues to be an infectious highlight and their whole bulletproof vest discussion makes for a strong example of how they work together. The misunderstanding that happens when Cole accidentally crashes Murtaugh and Trish’s alone time is also a much broader piece of comedy than the show might have attempted in the past, but it also ensures that Murtaugh’s trajectory with Cole feels unique from what he shared with Riggs.
“Need to Know” is another satisfying Lethal Weapon episode that carefully tries to refine the energy of this new version of the show. A forgettable case of the week doesn’t do the installment any favors, but this early point in the season is more concerned with characterization than anything else. The episode finds a surprisingly emotional core that feels authentic and helps further establish the dynamics of this season. Later episodes may have to work harder to find a strong baseline, but “Need to Know” doesn’t complicate things and officially marks the start of Murtaugh and Cole’s partnership.
Let’s hope that Murtaugh is a bagel guy…
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.