Apologies for this being the 3rd television review in a week, but we haven’t gone to the opera or a movie lately, and the news is just too depressing. What else could I write about?
- How we are now sending people to jail for life for pre-crime?
- This depressing tale of post-partum psychosis?
- The budget stalemate in which the Republicans continue to try to push through the same plan for destruction of the safety-net (specifically medicare) that cost them the presidential election?
- The selection of a new pope, who at least was never a member of Hitler Youth, but believes marriage equality is Satan’s plan, and may have aided and abetted a fascist junta?
It’s enough to keep someone awake at night, which is exactly when I do most of my television watching.
Deception is one of those shows I probably would never watch on television if I watched television on television. I’m still not sure why the television machines haven’t gone the way of landlines, except it may have something to do with sports.
Because I watch online, my television decisions are usually spontaneous and most watching happens during bouts of insomnia. (That is except for a few programs I run to as soon as they are available, and a few I binge-watch.)
At first, Deception seemed like it was trying to be two or a dozen things at once, the first being a soap about the foibles of the very rich (which didn’t work out so well for Dirty Rotten Money, although I wish it had because of Donald Sutherland, the late Jill Clayburgh and Peter Krause). It’s also an old-fashioned whodunit, a thriller involving industrial espionage, and maybe some kind of commentary on race and/or class that might not have been intentional.
The premise is that Joanna Locasta a San Fransisco cop, is recruited by her former partner, now FBI agent, Will Moreno to go undercover and ferret out the killer of her super-rich childhood friend Vivian Bowers. It’s a federal case because the murder may have something to do with the goings-on at Bowers Pharmaceutical. Joanna was raised on the Bowers’ estate where her mother was the housekeeper, but apparently neither Joanna nor her mother have had any contact with the Bowers in years. (The story of why the departure was so abrupt, is slowly coming out.)
Joanna is reluctant to take the assignment because (1) she hasn’t seen the Bowers in years (2) she’s never been undercover (3) her mom is now in assisted living and has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. However, Will convinces her that she needs to do this for Vivian. Also the recently divorced Joanna, has some kind of “unfinished business” with Will, and the assignment will probably be over in a few weeks.
There are many improbablities, including the idea the ultra-rich Bowers with all the secrets they hide would embrace Joanna, whom they haven’t seen in about seventeen years. Also unlikely that they had no idea what happened to her after she left. Old servants! They don’t call! They don’t write! They apparently don’t send Christmas cards telling you their daughter made detective.
She comes with a cover story, including running away from an abusive husband, and is immediately invited by Papa Bowers to move in to the big house. The first dinner with the grief-stricken family is awkward. One of the Bower sons is rightly suspicious of her, and Vivian’s possibly evil step-mother is a hostile drunk. There’s also Vivian’s other brother, the handsome Julian with whom Joanna has a history, and Vivian much younger, half-sister – an extremely bright but probably troubled teenager.
Bowers then offers Joanna a job as his assistant. Soon things heat up between Julian and Joanna, who’d had a teenage thing, making for a triangle with her ex-partner. It’s also unclear, at times even to Joanna, what she’s doing for “real” and what she’s doing as part of her investigation.
The tone was initially uneven, as though the writers and actors were still feeling their way through the characters, and hadn’t yet decided whether to play over-the-top or straight. The normally reliable Tate Donavan sneered his way through the first two episodes, but has now turned his character, Edward Bowers, into a full-fledged human being. Katherine LaNasa, seemed to playing the drunk step-mother in full-camp style, but has toned it down, allowing us to see a character who is always “acting” a part, and living even greater lies than the undercover detective. Ella Mae Peck as the precocious Mia, has been a standout, creating a teenager, who for all her sophistication, still acts like a teenager. The normally great Victor Garber as the head of the Bowers clan and company, seemed a bit too opaque. This might be more the fault of the writing. We still don’t know what Robert knows or doesn’t, nor do we know whether his priority is his company or his family.
Each week not only focused on a different suspect, but also revealed more family secrets. A few episodes in, we were introduced to the always interesting John Larroquette as the wonderfully sleazy and possibly evil, Senator Dwight Haverstock, who, SPOILER, turns out to have fathered the daughter Vivian had as a teenager, the one being raised as her half-sister by her possibly evil father and step-mother. This apparently happened right around the time that Joanna and her mother left, which explains why Joanna didn’t know about it.
What may have kept me watching was the developing Ross MacDonald/Lew Archer vibe. As in just about all Archer’s cases, there’s a rich family with its share of eccentricities and secrets, and a murder pre-ordained by events that occurred years before.
Even at its best, Deception is entertainment, not art, but until the latest episode I wasn’t sure if it was moderately entertaining, or actually good. In last week’s episode, I finally decided it was good. There came a moment when I stopped playing online mahjong, and devoted my full attention to it.
The moment came thanks to the arrival of Joanna’s mother, Beverly, played by S. Epatha Merkelson. Robert, knowing something was up with Joanna, instead of simply kicking her out of his home and firing her, found and flew her mother in for a visit. There’s a scene where Garber and Merkelson confront each other. Robert demands to know why Joanna is really there. Beverly reveals that while her brain may be going, she still has a spine of steel. Robert brings up another family secret and threatens to expose Beverly’s role in a previous death. Beverly reminds him that in six months she may not remember her own name. He’s got nothing.
Both actors were simply at their best. They managed to suggest much more than what was written – Robert’s desperation and ruthlessness, Beverly’s integrity and strength.Merkelsen managed to show us how Beverly saw the corruption in the house of Bowers, and all the resolve it must have taken to keep her daughter from getting to close to it. There were hints of other secrets beyond the bombshells being dropped.
Per Wikipedia, next week we finally learn the identity of Vivian’s killer. I have no idea where Deception goes after that. It makes more sense as a one-season mystery than a continuing series.
The most recent episodes can be watched for free on Hulu and at the show’s website. The entire series is available on HuluPlus. You could also watch it Monday nights on your television machine.