Thursday, August 23, 2018

REVIEW: 'Trial & Error' - Lavinia Takes the Stand During Jesse Ray's Trial in 'A Big Break' & 'Barcelona'

NBC's Trial & Error - Episodes 2.09 "A Big Break" and 2.10 "Barcelona"

Josh and his team continue to find themselves at literal dead ends in their casework until they unearth game-changing evidence with the help of Jesse Ray. In court, Carol Anne tries to finish the case before she has the baby. As Jesse Ray's trial begins, the team struggles to keep him under control while they discover more of Lavinia's secrets. Now that the baby is born and awaiting the DA election results, Carol Anne discovers who is the baby's father.

Trial & Error took a big risk this season in centering its story around multiple murders. It easily could have gone off the rails at any time. In the end, there is still a whole bunch that happens that could feel like the show throwing every believable twist at the wall. And yet, it all seems to make sense too and is so hilariously rewarding for the audience. Much like Josh surmises at the beginning of this two-episode finale, all of the evidence collected in this case so far only makes sense if you live in East Peck. This is a community with its own set of justice and oddities. The show embracing those unique details is what has made it so special to watch. So even though the focus of the season was a serial killer, the show still was able to find a very compelling spin on things. The body count only continues to rise here as well. Josh is so determined to get Lavinia convicted for her brother's murder. He's almost blind with his belief that she had to be responsible for his death because she is guilty of killing so many people. It would have been so unexpected but hilarious if Chet was the one person whom Lavinia didn't actually kill. And yet, that's not the twist that occurs here. In fact, all Josh has to do is get Lavinia on the stand and trick her into confessing her crimes. That's not too difficult because she has been openly detailing what she has done to Josh for a couple of episodes now. But it's so rewarding to go on that journey as Josh and associates keep struggling to make any case against their former client actually stick. She is one step ahead of them the entire time because of the camera she placed on Dwayne. That affords her the opportunity to know who she should kill in order to stay out of prison. That's the only way she knows how to get what she wants. But it still leads to such an uncertain time for everyone in East Peck as well.

In fact, it's just so amusing to see the various reactions that the citizens of this town have to the details of the Jesse Ray trial. The courtroom is more shocked seeing a photo of Chet and Jesse Ray hanging out as friends than they are of the strangulation marks on Chet's dead body. The people care more about the dead moose than the forger and tattoo artist who also turn up dead. An entire parade is held in memoriam of Mickey Moose. That's an absolutely ridiculous sequence. And yet, it is comprised of so many individual jokes that it's probably impossible for any viewer to catch them all during the first go-around. It's great to see that there's a three day suspension of moose meat and the movie theater now has a hole in the screen to match the hole in the town's collective heart. And all of this is still building to the town's appreciation and support of Lavinia. She continues to play the town so well in believing that she is an innocent socialite who cares about what happens in this community. She puts on a performance at this parade and is able to keep the entire town entertained for a long time. She has them eating out of the palm of her hand. Ironically, that's exactly what she did in order to kill the people and animals who could testify against her. She locked the forger into the freezer when he went to get the special frozen yogurt that Lavinia requested. And then, she poisoned Mickey Moose by slipping cyanide into his meals. She is such a despicable sociopath who is able to do all of these heinous acts, go into graphic detail about them with Josh and then just get up on stage to perform a full music number.

For those close to the case though, it's enough for them to be worried about getting murdered. Of course, Lavinia doesn't make any more attempts on the lives of the other main characters. She doesn't shoot an arrow at any of them despite their attempts to ruin her life. Sure, there's a moment where Dwayne almost hangs himself to death. But that's only a twisted joke that plays off of his lack of awareness regarding autoerotic asphyxiation. That's absolutely horrifying and yet completely hysterical as well. It pairs nicely throughout "A Big Break" with Carol Anne's numerous attempts to keep the baby inside of her. Again, it's just funny to watch the courtroom get invested in her journey as she tries to get to the picture only for it to drop on the ground. She doesn't want to lose this case because she goes into labor. She is literally dragged out of the courtroom screaming. Even when her water breaks, she just wants her intern to clean it up. Sure, her voice getting deeper didn't really work. But this story hits a really profound and emotional conclusion as well. For the entire season, it seemed inevitable that Josh would be revealed as the father of the baby. He is there in the delivery room. He is planning on being a father. He never for one second thought about the possibility of the baby not being his. That's what makes it so devastating when the show confirms that it is actually Rutger's. Josh is so destroyed that he even leaves his good luck charm from Larry behind on a bench. This has been too difficult a day for him. He is defeated in the courtroom and in life. And yet, it's also clear that Josh and Carol Anne want to be a family together. Even though the baby isn't his, Josh still wants to be a part of her life. He is kidding himself if he ever believes he is going to move back to New York one day. He is now in love with East Peck and won't be leaving any time soon.

All of that is very rewarding and sweet but the conclusion of Lavinia's story is also just as important for the season. This year started with the familiar tease of the audience not knowing if she was guilty or innocent. The quality went up considerably after it was revealed she was a serial killer. That made Kristin Chenoweth even more mesmerizing in this role. This is a performance that easily should win her an Emmy. And yet, the show is running too far under the radar for many people to appreciate it. That's so disappointing because it is one of the best comedies currently on the air. In fact, this season is one of the best to have aired in 2018 so far. That's really saying something too because there has been a lot of great shows this year. As such, the way that this story was resolved needed to bring enough closure to the case while still being completely surprising to the audience. And now, it's clear that Josh can prevail by playing the same game as Lavinia. He gets her on the stand because he uses her popularity in the town against her. He gets her to confess by presenting a powerful motivation that includes her just trying to be a mother. Throughout this season, it's clear that she wanted to be a mother more than anything else in the world. She killed long before she got pregnant and had to give the baby away. Her anger at not being able to respond to any of the subsequent correspondence with Trig though is what officially broke her. She killed so many people in her life in search of these letters. And in the end, Josh is the one who has them. Sure, he may not be able to track down Trig and have an epic confrontation in the courtroom. But he still crafts a scene where Lavinia is willing to believe that he has done just that. And so, he has bested her at her own game and that's so rewarding.

This is a major victory that is cause for celebration. Of course, it's all kickstarted by Lavinia being taken out of the courtroom with another epic performance. This town loves hearing her sing. And yes, it's great that the show incorporated Kristin Chenoweth's fantastic singing abilities into the role. That encore performance in the courtroom is one of the most beautiful things about this final sequence. The town is still cheering for her even though they know she is a serial killer. That's the type of people in this community. But that's also what makes them so lovable. Moreover, Lavinia respects Josh for what he was able to do. She explains that that is the reason why she didn't try to kill him. She saw him as an equal who was actually able to defeat her and get her to confess. Sure, she doesn't stay in jail for the next 50 years of her life. Her houseboy soon breaks her out by staging as a prison guard. She is able to flee the country. She escapes to Barcelona in search of the son she has never known. She does so in the elaborate disguise that is able to fool everyone. That disguise is what led to her being brought down. And now, it's what allows her to have her freedom once more. She is a fugitive from justice. That could make her such an unexpected figure moving forward should the show be renewed for another season. The end of the season is already establishing what the case will be. Carol Anne has been elected District Attorney. She won not because of the outcome of the case but because she exposed her breasts to the entire courtroom. Meanwhile, Josh gets a call to defend a trio of boys who were convicted during the infamous witch trials of 1994. That seems like an intriguing premise. I really hope that the show will get the chance to tell it. This is a satisfying conclusion. I just wish it isn't the end of our time together in East Peck.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Big Break" was written by Jeff Astrof and directed by Jeffrey Blitz.
  • "Barcelona" was written by Jeff Astrof and directed by Jeffrey Blitz.
  • Nina's story ends in a very lackluster and anti-climatic way. She just never really clicked this season. Sure, her podcast was good for the occasional joke but nothing more. And now, she leaves town out of fear for her own life. She is right to do so as well because of the amount of people dying in connection with the case. But she mostly just appeared this season in order to get Josh to realize his strong feelings for the town and Carol Anne.
  • Dwayne hanging himself is this elaborate joke that just lingers for a little bit. The show sets it up in showing that it's bound to end in tragedy because Anne can't help cut him down. But then, it doesn't lead to another character dying - even by accident. Instead, the ceiling just collapses in the office. That's a great and twisted visual joke. Meanwhile, it's just hilarious that he wants his initials - DNR - tattooed on him so that people can identify him in case of a medical emergency.
  • The random medical conditions affecting Anne this week including her being unable to open her eyes and her losing the ability to control what her hands are doing. The latter mostly just means she walks into rooms flipping people off. That's just a one-off joke though. Meanwhile, her eyes being closed is a consistent story. One that finds constant ways to amuse the audience especially when she takes off her sunglasses to reveal eyes drawn on her.
  • Lavinia also played a role in the witch trials of the past. Her family was responsible for getting them out of the town in the first place. So, she teases Josh that the witches have the potential of returning now that she's locked up. He doesn't worry too much about that. And then, that final call comes. As such, a new story is brewing about the various superstitions the people in East Peck have. Plus, Lavinia could play a role in it as well which is very exciting.
  • This was such a low rated season. It would again pain me if the show got canceled. It seems inevitable because NBC likely can't justify the numbers. And yet, there is hope because Warner Bros. Television owns the show. There have already been some stories about it being pitched to other outlets. So, I don't know if this is the end. I hope not. But I also wonder what a season on another network or streaming service would look like.