Monday, September 25, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Irrational' - Alec Mercer Demands Law Enforcement to Dig Deeper Following a False Confession in 'Pilot'

NBC's The Irrational - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Professor of behavioral science Alec Mercer is called upon to investigate the murder of a fashion influencer whose boyfriend, a decorated soldier and son of a senator, has confessed to the crime. Mercer suspects there's more to the story than meets the eye.

"Pilot" was written by Arika Lisanne Mittman and directed by David Frankel

People behave irrationally but predictably so. That's the central thesis that informs Alec Mercer's work. He's trusted as a professor of behavioral science that law enforcement relies on for his crucial insights. He doesn't have a formal consulting contract with any particular unit. He simply has made enough connections that people trust what he has to say and call in his expertise. In a hostage situation, Alec has the tools to end the conflict peacefully when all other negotiations fail. The situation itself isn't incredibly unique. The method Alec employs works in the majority of these situations. He can't be the only person capable of implementing it. And yet, it establishes trust right away. He's a cynic of law enforcement. He would never work for them. He still saves lives through his work. Alec throws himself into the work to cover up the pain of the past. His memory has long played tricks on him about the night he was injured in a church bombing. He understands the patterns of deceit within himself to a certain extent. He doesn't believe a psychologist could offer anything new. His existence simply removes emotion from reason in every circumstance. That's why he and Marissa are no longer together. It's a lot of backstory dumped into the premise right away. It provides the show with an episodic hook while suggesting a bigger conspiracy is going on. Alec has healed from his wounds. He still bears scars from the severe burn though. Everyone always asks him about it. As such, he predictably tries to get ahead of the question. He creates his own answers in order to remain more guarded. He doesn't let many people into the truth. Moreover, his life was forever shaped by that tragedy. Marissa was the FBI Agent who took his statement in the aftermath. He's only become a valuable resource for law enforcement because of his devotion to understanding human behavior. He is constantly yearning for more knowledge. That could very easily make Alec Mercer a jaded character with contempt for how others act. He's constantly thrown into situations that feel cliche. He embarks on them to better understand the criminal mindset in the heat of the moment. He's reckless with his own life. That's incredibly dangerous. He still returns to relative safety and normalcy afterwards. Again, he doesn't fear for his life because emotion is still removed from reason even when he's being held at gunpoint. It's a remarkable disassociation.

Alec sees the clues others may miss. It doesn't immediately come across as impressive. It's just a powerful voice advocating for the truth when so much of society would take the first statements as fact no matter what. That's a fascinating perspective especially as it pertains to how law enforcement does its job. In that regard, the storytelling may not have enough contempt for the figures who want to convict a Senator's son as quickly as possible for a crime he didn't commit. He has the privilege to be treated better in this system. He doesn't want that because he feels guilty. That guilt doesn't come from this crime. He has nothing to reconcile over. He found a program that worked for him until something abused his trust. Alec essentially behaved the same way. He too went to AA meetings just to flush out the true killer. He shared his story. He was more vulnerable there than he ever allows himself to be. It was all a ploy. He had to share the truth because others could sense the authenticity and respond with their own vulnerability. Alec understands that and recites the theory back to his new research student. Everything is fundamentally a teaching moment. One where he constantly hopes to train the minds of others to think beyond their current limitations. It's so easy to be influenced though. Again, that could easily make Alec jaded. He wants the world to be better. So much of the show is based solely around Jesse L. Martin. He's more than capable of leading this drama. It's a premise that is absolutely set up to have a long run in success. However, the complexities are cloying in a way that suggests nothing can ever rise above what Alec already instinctively believes he understands. His own mind and perspective need to be challenged. That may come from the mystery pertaining to his past. However, the people in his life in the present aren't fully realized enough to actually provide that pushback in a remarkable way. They are just tools to listen to him and offer their opinions on his personal life. It's messy but not destructive. He risks a lot. His family worries about him. It's never actual danger because he knows better. That arrogance is impressive even as the storytelling feels the urge to explain every move with the psychological rationalization behind it.