Every good team suffers set-backs. Unfamiliar circumstances, unknown opponents, unforeseen sabotage. The T.A.C. team has faced each of these scenarios in their previous battles but they’ve always had Dr. Jason “Not-A-Lawyer” Bull captaining the ship with calm oversight. This week, they hit strange waters when they are not only handicapped by new rules, incomplete intel, and multiple parties working at cross-purposes, but Bull and Benny are unable to work in tandem due to military protocol.
The case centres on a young military data analyst, Lt. Tamsin Dale (Holly Curran, Z:The Beginning of Everything), who is arrested under the Espionage Act for leaking a classified military memo to an online news agency. She is a soldier who values facts as black-and-white data and believes in both the military as a noble agency and the United States as a global ideal. She only calls on Bull because his record is mathematically impressive, not because she believes jury consulting is that much different from lying.
Benny is cautious about taking this case early on. Initially, he sees Dale as a whistleblower, leaking information about a senior military official who had little regard or concern for civilian casualties in order to have him removed from command. However, when it comes to light her leak may have also led to the deaths of three U.S. Rangers, he counsels Bull to walk away. But our doctor has the bit in his teeth and he’s determined to save Dale from herself.
This immediately takes the team into uncomfortable waters. Marissa lays down the law on exactly how low-tech they need to go. “No hacking,” she says to the team but pointedly at Cable who looks like someone just kicked her dog. Because it’s a national security case and because Marissa comes from a background which includes working for Homeland Security, everything is pencil, paper, and brainstorm boards. She even shuts down the T.A.C. bank of monitors to prove the point (at which Cable’s figurative dog has been literally run over) but tries to raise team morale by likening the experience to a camping trip.
Military jury panels are made up of twelve members selected from a pool of about thirty. The pool is created by the convening authority who, in this case, is Dale commanding officer, Colonel Abernathy Jackson (Andre Ware, House of Cards). Only nine members are needed to find Dale guilty and the defense can only put one juror out during voir dire. Marissa recognizes that this is to T.A.C.’s disadvantage – jury selection is their forte and only getting one strike is going to hamper them significantly.
The focus becomes to eliminate the “nuclear juror”, the member with the qualities most toxic to the defense. Marissa and the team feed Bull the information they’re able to glean through public documents and give him the name of the heavy-hitter they’re able to identify. He, however, takes in the body language he observes in the courtroom and has Benny strike a different juror.
After voir dire, Benny is hustled off to a black site for a motions hearing and Bull isn’t allowed to accompany which sticks in his craw enough for him to state wistfully,”The one time I might want to be a lawyer.” At the site, Benny is warned that discussing any of the classified documents pertaining to this case could lead to him being jailed up to ten years. What he sees is important enough that he demand it be included at trial but the prosecution objects, stating that the hearing was called specifically to move that the document be excluded.
Back at T.A.C. headquarters, bothered by the fact Lt. Dale was never charged for the deaths of the U.S. Rangers, Bull chats up Benny, curious about the whole black site experience and Benny has to shut him down. Bull backs off, leaving Benny to struggle alone with the information he has but can’t share.
As the trial begins, Bull begins to suspect something is off as jurors that the team had pegged as on Dale’s side are exhibiting anger and belligerence while ones they had warned him about seem open to the defense’s case. While the team tries to explain these contradictions, Marissa comes to the realization that the profiles are off because their data is wrong. All the underlying data they had used to build the profiles had been altered by digital sabotage. T.A.C. has been hacked and they literally pull the plug on everything. Ironically, this twist really brings Cable back to life as she diagnoses how the hackers got in and tracks their pedigree back to a ring of Chinese hackers.
When it becomes obvious that Benny has important information that he cannot share explicitly and simultaneously facing opponents in the form of the army, a major media outlet, AND Chinese hackers, Bull pulls out his superpowers in a dramatic fashion. Grilling Benny with questions he instructs him NOT to answer verbally, in very close proximity, Bull monitors his micro-expressions and his pulse to discern the information Benny learned at the black site, that Dale had redacted the memo she leaked, hiding all information that might’ve lead to the Ranger location and therefore her actions could not have caused their deaths.
Bull meets with Lt. Dale before trial the next day and lets her know that he knows the truth which is a visible relief to the otherwise-stoic soldier. At trial, she takes the stand and ignoring Benny’s warnings, she begins to testify to the truth she had protected for so long. Benny jumps in instead and states it all out loud before she can, despite Bull trying to get him to stop. Judge Colonel Garcia (Linda Powell, Chicago Fire) throws the information out, instructing the jurors to disregard and calls a recess. The F.B.I. have been present in court the whole trial and Special Agent Riley (Tom Degnan, Limitless) arrests Benny on the spot.
In the F.B.I. interrogation room, Bull reveals to Benny that he had advised Dale to reveal the classified information at trial. By leaving Benny out of the loop on this tactic, he had hoped to protect him from prosecution for revealing the information to him tacitly. This infuriates Benny and, feeling like he is not trusted or valued, he sends Bull away.
Running T.A.C. HQ in a state of triage, Marissa confides in Chunk that she’s expecting the F.B.I. to descend on them any moment. Concerned about protecting their clients’ information, she warns him to be ready to hit the “kill switch”. Got that? T.A.C. has a KILL SWITCH. Feels like that’s going to be an important thing to remember sometime…
With Benny incarcerated, Bull coaches Lt. Dale on how to deliver her own closing argument, getting past the facts to the story of why she did what she did, and filling her in on how to maximize the impact on the jury. And it appears to work for the most part. The jury finds her not guilty on three counts of the charge but guilty on the fourth. Guilty is guilty and she faces up to twenty years for the leak.
This is probably the lowest we’ve ever seen the team. A loss at trial. Benny in federal prison. Their analytical system in tatters. But first things first. Bull’s Hail Mary play for the lieutenant hinges on appealing to the sense of right and justice in Colonel Jackson, the convening authority of the case, who, under military law, has the right to step in and alter her sentence. After the jury hands down a sentence of twelve years, he addresses the court and speaks to the good that she is capable of and how her actions righted a wrong. Using his authority, he reduces her sentence to a year to be served on the base. She will still be dismissed from the army but her life will be hers again in a year.
Although the situation with Benny is far from fixed, Bull does strike a deal with the F.B.I. to set him free, trading the hacker worm to S.A. Riley to use in his case against the media outlet that caused the Ranger deaths. When Benny tracks him down, they have a little heart-to-heart wherein Bull divulges a tiny bit of his past to try to explain his belief that some secrets have to stay secret, even at the expense of trust.
It’s a hard ending to sit with this week. Our well-oiled, slick, solve-everything T.A.C. machine has been messed with. Bull’s self-assurance isn’t quite enough to make us feel like everything is going to be okay just yet. And once relationships need mending, they never go back to what they were before. Luckily, we’ve grown to love this team enough to want to root for them and stick around to see how it all shakes out.
Bull airs Tuesday nights at 9pm PT/ET on CBS.