This Lethal Weapon review contains spoilers.
Lethal Weapon Season 3 Episode 9
“I’m not the guy you’re looking for…”
Christmas always makes for an invigorating, creative time for procedural crime shows. Fictionalized crimes that pull from the holidays for their inspiration always have an added energy. Whether it’s the simple use of “Carol of the Bells” over a perp chase, the sight of Christmas trees during a shootout, or jolly old St. Nick turning out to be a hardened criminal, this extra level of seasonal flair can often elevate a basic felony into something more operatic. It’s powerful to watch the juxtaposition of something as wholesome as the holidays with a vicious crime that reflects the worst in humanity. The holidays are a time of giving, but they’re also very much a time of desperation and of taking. “Bad Santas” doesn’t deliver the definitive Christmas crime story, but it does result in a strong episode of Lethal Weapon that makes for a commendable note to go out on as the fall finale.
Lethal Weapon’s previous Christmas entries, “Jingle Bell Glock” and “Wreck the Halls” are both structured where ill-timed crimes interrupt what should be peaceful holidays. “Bad Santas” implements a much more active approach where the holidays aren’t just at war with the LAPD’s casework, but they’re also one in the same. Murtaugh and Cole need to take down Santa himself by the end of the episode and it’s the perfect visual for a Lethal Weapon Christmas.
The episode tethers itself with a prologue and flashback sequences that go all the way back to 1993 in Slovakia to reveal a pained chapter from one of Cole’s earliest Christmases. It shows that even in his young years, Christmas has always been a difficult, emotional time for the Coles and Wesley wants to break the bad traditions here and double down on the healthy memories that he can build with Maya. “Bad Santas” underscores that while Cole’s mother had good intentions, she could be oblivious to her son’s interests and left him with a lot of issues as a result.
On paper it may not look like Cole is doing that much better with his own mother, but he cares, he tries, and his interests are wholly less selfish than his mother’s. It looks like Cole’s relationship with his mom wasn’t perfect, but it’s clear that they both loved each other. Don’t expect the end of the season to deal with Cole’s acceptance of his mother in the present, like it did with Riggs and his dad. Speaking of Riggs, I also would have very much been into the ghost of Riggs appearing all Jacob Marley style and teaching Murtaugh and/or Cole a thing or two about how to be a good dad. Missed opportunity. Seriously.
The holidays have everyone acting a little introspective and looking towards the people in their lives that are closest to them. Things between Cole and Natalie are still considerably rocky, but he’s given his first chance at a solo Christmas with Maya and he’s desperate to not blow it. In a lot of ways Cole needs this Christmas to make up for all of the ones that he’s missed, so there’s a lot of pressure riding on it. Also, it’s frankly good to get an episode without Natalie and the entry’s pivot over to Maya is appropriate considering how much attention has been given to Natalie. She could use a breather.
“Bad Santas” begins with what appears to be an unremarkable burglary and home invasion, but within the first ten minutes of the episode there’s a corpse getting blasted into a Christmas tree. The burglary and home invasion matter looks like an open and shut case, but on Lethal Weapon those crimes usually turn out to be the most surprising ones. Cole is devastated to learn that Oscar, one of his fellow sad single dad friends who also stays at the Safari Inn, is apprehended for the crime. When this guy’s son, Sam—who happens to be Maya’s best friend—faces the possibility of spending a Christmas without a father, Maya’s defense mechanisms kick in and she’s determined to help her dad find the real bad guy and get her friend’s father off the hook.
Cole tends to displace his feelings onto the cases that he works and so it’s not surprising to see him champion his friend so hard. If he can prove that he’s innocent, then he can vindicate every father that’s been absent to their kids on Christmas. At first, all of this is a little convenient, but of course Cole’s theory that there’s a guilty man still out there turns out to be right. “Bad Santas” also becomes more interesting when Avery concedes to Cole that someone else is responsible for the burglaries, but the bigger problem is that Cole has no hard proof on the matter, which then becomes the focus of the second half of the episode.
The holidays and Cole’s concern over Maya causes Murtaugh to think about his offspring, which includes a Costa Rica-bound RJ. Roger would love to have the entire family together for Christmas and to build plenty of warm memories with RJ present, but he’s also eager to sway his son to stay with them and not flee the coast. The fact that RJ hasn’t bought a return ticket from LA has Roger cautiously optimistic, he just has to make sure that the “party” that he throws his son isn’t too extravagant. Two DJs, one ice sculpture, and 12 gallons of gazpacho later, there’s quite the rager going on in the Murtaugh household.
Murtaugh’s over the top party is going great, but the festivities hit a major snag when it looks like the guest of honor won’t even be attending. A basic flight snafu results in RJ missing his flight and rather than still act excited to see his son the following week, Roger instead explodes at his boy and reiterates to RJ why he was so anxious to get out of their house in the first place. Roger’s meltdown over how RJ isn’t the perfect adult is typical behavior for him, but it’s appreciated to see how “Bad Santas” doesn’t draw out this conflict. As soon as Roger and RJ’s fight is over Trish is there to explain how stubborn Roger’s being over this.
These dramatic feelings even spill over into Avery, who’s arguably the most melancholy of the LAPD this week. Ever since he lost the mayoral election he’s sensed tension at home between himself and Todd. Avery spends most of “Bad Santas” moping about and lost in his head, but he eventually gets out of his funk and overcompensates by throwing as much of himself as possible into Murtaugh’s party.
Once Murtaugh and Cole are able to track down the people responsible for the string of robberies that have taken place, the episode’s big final showpiece is a flashy bank heist that occurs during the Santa Claus parade and culminates with Murtaugh pummeling Santa with a giant candy cane in front of many appalled children. There’s also a nice human element involved here with how Cole also has to save Sam, Oscar’s son, even if it’s absolutely ridiculous that Maya and Sam are just out on their own and happen to also get involved at the parade.
“Bad Santas” is actually rather light on the action, but there are still two major setpieces in the installment, which are debatably some of the coolest and best moments from the season. At one point, a hasty getaway attempt results in a car driving into a hotel room, which nearly gets Cole permanently evicted from his sleazy temporary residence. The episode also boasts a freaking chainsaw fight, which is extremely bad-ass and leads to a very cool obstacle where Murtaugh is stuck in a chimney and a rogue chainsaw skitters on the ground below him, like some automatic pit of spikes.
“Bad Santas” also provides more material for Bailey’s tumultuous relationship with her new partner, the “Gute.” This storyline continues to click and while it’s not the episode’s focus, whenever it’s returned to the entry gains an excitable energy. I’ve said it before, but it’s a real shame that the season didn’t dig into the Bailey and Gutierrez dynamic sooner and turned them into the new leads. They’re given the C-story of the episode, but it’s a crime that’s arguably a lot more interesting than what Cole and Murtaugh face.
Bailey and the Gute have a puzzle of body parts to assemble and make literal heads or tails of a victim. In a surprising conclusion, this Frankenstein-esque corpse actually ties together with Cole and Murtaugh’s case in a smart way. “Bad Santas” also marks the start of a charming little friendship between the Gute and Scorsese, which is actually exciting territory to be moving into and it gives the guy something to do. In a nice twist, it turns out that Scorsese actually has his eye on Bailey, which I’m into if that happens to be the endgame for these final episodes.
“Bad Santas” makes for a fun installment of the series that never takes itself too seriously. The characters all act pretty predictably in this episode, but they all get their heads out of their asses reasonably quickly, too. “Bad Santas” doesn’t allow for any ideas to linger for too long. The episode also does effectively evoke the Christmas spirit and it’s surprising how sweet it is to see Cole gift Avery plane tickets to Wyoming so that he can get to his vacation. Many kind moments like that are peppered throughout the episode’s final act, which makes this seasonal installment conclude on a fittingly cheerful note.
See you in 2019, guys, for RJ and the Case Of the Unscrupulous Timeshares!
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.