This Lethal Weapon review contains spoilers.
Lethal Weapon Season 3 Episode 6
“Partners are like family. You need to be able to rely on them.”
Lethal Weapon’s previous episode generated some criticism for how it played into the show’s formula a little too much. However, with the direction that “Panama” takes, it’s now rather clear that this is likely the trajectory for the rest of the year. Learn more about Cole’s past? Check. Put Murtaugh and Trish in some obligatory fight that gets blown out of proportion? Check. A lot of dialogue about the importance of partners and family? Double check. Welcome back to another episode of season three of Lethal Weapon.
Cole’s inner demons become the catalyst for “Panama” and the episode effectively intertwines them with the LAPD’s latest case. Cole’s major personal dilemma of the week has to do with his mentor from his CIA years, Tom Barnes (Mykelti Williamson), dropping in and shaking up his world. Barnes is the one who initially recruited Cole for the CIA, and if there’s anyone who’s been able to get the guy to straighten up and fly right, it’s him. Barnes helped Cole not only realize his potential, but attain it, and “Panama” makes their relationship and their past its focal point.
The episode chronicles each of the pivotal stages from Barnes’ recruitment of Cole, and while they make for some emotional moments that depict an especially sensitive time in Cole’s development, they run more or less how you’d expect them to play out. There’s nothing deeply surprising here that justifies an entire episode on Cole’s pre-CIA days. You could get all of this across through a monologue. “Panama” wants Cole’s gritty past to look like Casino Royale and instead it comes across like Bulletproof Monk.
Murtaugh is especially cagey about a piece of Cole’s backstory in Panama that he shares with Barnes, but rather than take Cole’s word on the matter, he blows it out of proportion. Furthermore, Murtaugh is more willing to believe a tip from Barnes—whom he just met—over his partner. At this point has Cole not earned Murtaugh’s trust? We’re almost halfway through the season, and while it makes sense that Murtaugh and Cole wouldn’t be completely open books to each other, it feels like they’d still be past this basic level of digging into each other’s dirt. This story would have been perfect for the season’s second or third episode, but it doesn’t hit as hard so many episodes into the season.
The crime that’s got the LAPD and Cole’s old teammates all worked up involves the robbery of a safety deposit box. Even though it creates some decent suspense, it’s fairly low stakes as far as Murtaugh and Cole are concerned (although the Mission: Impossible-style heist is a nice touch). The more important detail in this case is that the suspects involved are connected to Cole’s past. The bank is quick to think that this is an inside job, but when Cole ascertains that the crime is committed exactly how he’d have pulled it off, it leads him to a dangerous conclusion. Not only is Tom Barnes back in his life, but Cole’s most valued parental figure has flipped sides and turned to the dark side.
“Panama” spins the elaborate heist in the direction that another one of Barnes’ agents has gone rogue. Cole is a little suspicious about the circumstances of this familiar face’s return and Barnes forces him into a situation where they need to work together. It’s not exactly a smooth homecoming for the two, but it’s fairly clear from the start that it’s actually Barnes himself who’s the guilty one and he just wants to deflect attention from himself. Granted, this case grows more complicated than that, but Barnes is definitely not the friend that Cole thinks that he is.
Meanwhile, the way which Murtaugh proves to be petty and insecure in his personal life in this episode involves his wife’s latest client, Louie “The Gute” Gutierrez. The Gute immediately proves to be a strong adversary for Murtaugh and pushes his buttons with every move she makes. She’s like three McNieles plus two Leo Getzes. It’s nothing new for Murtaugh to freak out over people that his wife works with, so this is frankly a little tiring, but Paola Lazaro brings a certain intensity to “The Gute” that makes her and Murtaugh butting heads so entertaining. Frankly, she’d have been a more complex replacement for Riggs than Cole.
This storyline gets interesting when Murtaugh brings in Bailey’s expertise to do a background check on Trish’s new client and pry into her past. Murtaugh’s actions are very immature, but it’s always nice when Bailey can take center stage and “Panama” is a great episode for the character. It’s a surprising change of pace to see Bailey come back with a black eye when she tries to get into Gutierrez’ face, but it makes the resolution with her character all the more satisfying in the end. “The Gute” looks to be sticking around, so it’s a relief that the character makes such a strong first impression here. If she can’t be Murtaugh’s partner, then Bailey’s is the next best thing. It should be fun to see her continually ruffle Murtaugh and Bailey’s feathers as the season continues.
Bailey may learn to loosen up on “The Gute,” but Cole gets progressively suspicious of Barnes the further they get involved in the case. Barnes eventually poses Cole with the ultimatum of either choosing Murtaugh or himself on the matter. It’s poignant to see Cole choose his present over his past and “officially” move on, but the decision isn’t very surprising. This situation does grow a little more intricate than the typical Lethal Weapon case since Barnes is still out there and running his game.
It’s not a flawed idea to have Cole go up against someone who’s essentially himself but turned bad; however, it’s something that this season has already explored to various degrees. “Panama” gets points for how it pushes Cole to actually execute his target, but it also feels like yet another patch in Cole’s tapestry of trauma.
Speaking of trauma and senseless violence, the shoot-outs in “Panama” feel rather standard as far as the show goes. In spite of this, Cole does get to break out into a gnarly knife fight with a former CIA agent and first-time director Keesha Sharp (woo!) effectively taps into the raw nature of the scene.
There’s a huge car explosion at the end of the installment that’s clearly meant to be the show’s major set piece. Even though Sharp kills it with the flames and slow-mo action, the best part of the episode and the bit that has the most personality is when Murtaugh and Bailey have to commandeer a “Just Married” vehicle on their way to the final showdown. When that’s the most memorable detail in your episode, you know that this isn’t one of the series’ all-time best outings.
“Panama” presents a problematic version of Lethal Weapon that’s still fun, but beginning to feel like a broken record. The series may be entering its first real slump here. The show is by no means bad, but the past few episodes have felt like they’re on autopilot to some extent. With the very public behind the scenes unrest that’s been going on, it sounds like everyone may just be tired with this show. It will still take a few episodes to make that call for sure, but hopefully, this is just a rough patch rather than the beginning of the end because Seann William Scott does seem to be trying and Cole could have potential as a character with the right work. In spite of any downfalls within “Panama,” the installment chooses to make an ambitious choice to finally shake up the formula and put Cole in “danger.” It might be a clichéd note to go out on, but it’s also the most exciting thing the show has done in a while.
And P.S., do not ask Roger Murtaugh to do his Al Pacino impression…
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.