Hot Tempers and a Cool Welcome in Bull’s Winter Finale “Light My Fire”
It seems that whenever the TAC team steps out of New York, the audience gets an eyeful of Jason Bull’s past and personal life. And for someone who is so remarkably easy-going, our good doctor gets questionable receptions from those he’s had past encounters with. The last time they ventured out was to Callisto, Texas, where Bull proved he was susceptible to pretty Texan lawyers armed with big bottles of bourbon. This time, TAC is in Kavanaugh, New Â Hampshire, Bull’s hometown (of sorts) which has just suffered a terrible wildfire triggered by a case of arson at a local restaurant.
Initially, at least, it looks to be weekend off for the team. Bull and Benny have flown to Kavanaugh to inspect the remains of Bull’s cabin there, a casualty of the wildfire. Benny’s mostly hoping to get some fishing in. Bull is even more introspective than usual – reminiscing about the years he spent in the area, divulging that he overpaid his father for the cabin twenty-five years ago, but not really indulging in much sentimentality about the cabin itself (or his dad, for that matter). He deflects Benny’s question about his dad and their relationship but the town manages to fill in those gaps by the end of the episode.
While trekking through the woods, they meet up with local real estate agent, Joyce Magruder (Catherine Curtin, Orange is the New Black), who manages to slip several digs about Bull’s past and his father into her glossy sales pitch, they learn about the young man, Peter Walsh (Owen Campbell, The Americans), charged with the arson that caused the fire and the second-degree murder of the man killed in the initial explosion at the restaurant. “You remember the Walshes,” states Joyce in that of-course-you-do tone stereotypical of small town gossips.
Next stop is the local watering hole where they grab some beers and Benny orders up a fishing license. In stroll some town fire fighters and Chief Walt Simonds (Grainger Hines, The Knick) has no trouble recognizing Bull and making it clear that he isn’t welcome. Benny steers the conversation to the arsonist and the fire fighters spill everything they know about the case while the Chief points out that the most damning evidence is that the Walsh family has always been no good… just like the Bulls apparently.
Left alone, Benny looks at Bull’s face and sees his fishing opportunity slipping the hook. This town has rubbed the doctor the wrong way and he’s out to make things right. Honestly, this is probably the angriest we’ve ever seen Bull and the only thing that indicates his rage is just how *still* he is. Weatherly’s sense of his character is truly remarkable.
While examining Peter Walsh’s house, Bull hints that he identifies with the accused’s situation – a young man capable of great things but treated with constant suspicion by the town because of his family. They introduce themselves to Peter in his police cell and, after getting his measure, Bull takes his case and sends for the cavalry… err, the TAC team.
Chunk gets the first task of grooming Peter into something “respectable”-looking to the court and jury. Then Benny steps up in voir dire to select the jury most likely to give Peter a chance to prove himself other than a “Walsh”. This includes culling the “sneezer” or town influencer, Joyce, which pisses her off. Marissa gets to the take one for the team and cuddle up to that lovely bundle of gossip, whom Bull has pegged as their one-stop-shop Kavanaugh mirror jury, in order to monitor how the trial’s going.
Meanwhile, Cable’s doing her thing and deep diving on Kavanaugh’s social web of influence, pulling a few strings as she passes through and Danny’s been tasked with examining the files on the fire. Initially, the Chief withholds the files but once Bull has a chat with him about how suspicious it looks for him to stonewall the team when the defendent is legally entitled to the information, Danny is permitted to pick them up from the station.Â Danny gets to do the heavy lifting on this case, using her training to pick holes in the Chief’s account of the arson and finding connections to two previous fires that the Chief had deemed accidents.
Benny finally gets his chance to fish… the morning of the first day of the trial. Getting lost in the woods with no cellular signal is not a good enough reason for the judge to issue another continuance so Bull steps up and represents Peter for the cross-examination of Chief Simonds. Knowing the Chief has little patience for him in general, Bull deliberately pushes his buttons – calling him out on his explanation of the restaurant fire, offering an alternate hypothesis which ties in the previous fires in the Kavanaugh area, questioning his ability as chief in a town as fire-prone as Kavanaugh has been of late. Angered, the Chief reverts to family connections again, accusing Bull of being just like his father, a man who swindled the town decades before. Ironically, Bull points out to the jury that the Chief is deflecting which pushes his buttons even more, causing him to lose his temper on the stand.
Marissa’s new bestie Joyce takes her skeet shooting on their first outing together complete with mimosas (because booze and guns is always a good idea) where they subtly grill each other on the workings of the case. We get another Marissa morsel – turns out she lettered in archery as well as studying mythology – and Joyce hints that Bull’s father victimized his own family as much as he did from the town. When asked about it, Bull admits his dad took $500 off him and he never really trusted him again after that.
While the team delves into Bull’s Kavanaugh memories – joy-riding in the police chief’s boat, leading a pre-teen biker gang (on actual bicycles) – Danny comes up with a new twist on her theory. The fires are being set by a professional meaning the real arsonist is a fire fighter. After a confrontation with the Chief and his two sidekicks, Bull sets Danny to keep an eye on the Chief until the end of the trial.
Back at trial, Peter takes the stand after Bull gives him a musically-rooted mental touchstone to keep him grounded during cross-examination. This pays off when Peter is asked why he stays in Kavanaugh if he doesn’t feel welcome and he delivers a clear and eloquent message that illustrate his ties to the town and how it’s his home and always has been, scoring major points with the jury and bringing the widow of the restaurant owner to tears.
The upswing for the team sets Joyce off and she blows up at Bull and Marissa, storming away after declaring the jury will see things her way once she talks to them. Enter Cable and her Internet superpowers. Fighting gossip with gossip, they plant the rumour that Joyce is buying up the devalued real estate in the wake of the fire in order to bring a resort development to Kavanaugh. After staging a little show for passer-byers outside the market, the town mobilizes in their anti-resort campaign at a speed that boggles even Marissa, all the while glaring daggers at their former queen bee, Joyce.
Using the insidious and uncontrollable nature of gossip as a central parable in his closing argument, Benny is able to tie Peter’s situation into the power of the resort rumour and the jury turns in a not guilty verdict. Bull congratulates a relieved Peter and places an order for one of the unique guitars Peter makes.
To tie up all the loose ends, Chief Simonds shows up in court and lets Bull know that after their last run-in, he’d gone back over the fire records and found one of his fire fighters, Sam Keane (Tommy Beardmore, The Life and Death of an Unhappily Married Man) had consistently been the first on the scene of every propane-fueled incident. Bull, having noticed the fire fighter in question previously, concludes that he had to have been taking orders from someone else. Sure enough, the Sam flips on his boss for a plea bargain and Joyce gets arrested on the skeet range while Marissa gets to take the final shot of the round.
The TAC team gathering ritual resumes this week with them huddled around a campfire, roasting marshmallows, while Benny finally catches a fish. After all the things learned about Bull and his father, the only thing the team wants to know is why he kept the cabin all these years. When he admits he had dreamed of returning to Kavanaugh to set things right, Chunk points out that the dream’s come true and, having found out his father had never spent the $500 he’d taken all those years ago, Bull has to admit that maybe it had.
Bull returns on January 3 on CBS at 9pm ET/PT.
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