Bull Uses a Mock Trial with Real Purpose in “Stockholm Syndrome”
“Crisis reveals character.” In a return to format, this week’s episode starts with the show’s trademark “person on the street” medley where random individuals chime in on a topic. Tonight, they are asked about how they would or have reacted in a threatening situation, such as having a gun pointed at them. The twist is that the final face to appear is Dr. Bull himself, explaining that situations like this are opportunities to see a person’s true self.
As per usual, the random individuals (but obviously not Bull) are new mirror jury members being led through an orientation by Chunk at TAC on their first day. This was a neat perspective that we haven’t seen before. Typically, we see the real jury selected and then the mirror jury just springs, fully-formed, from the genius of Marissa and Cable and appears in the courtroom to produce data for the many, many TAC screens during the trial. What do we learn right away from this behind-the-scenes peek? TAC jurors get paid $200 a day and get a hot lunch.
As Chunk escorts them into the building and through security, one of the jurors is noticeably subdued. Once inside, she ducks into the restroom, concocts something in her thermos, sets her watch timer, and drops the thermos in a garbage can in the hall outside the TAC mock courtroom. All very troubling actions and she doesn’t necessarily look happy to be doing it.
Chunk continues his slick spiel, introducing Marissa and Benny, each of whom has a rehearsed intro as well. We’ve always known that TAC is a smooth operation but seeing them in action is pretty awesome. Marissa spells out the task at hand and everything that is involved while Benny gives voice to every possible paranoid conspiracy thought a potential participant could have, thereby defusing those fears.
As the jurors are set up with their biometric monitors, our mysterious thermos-dumper is named as Laurel Guthrie (Christina Jackson, Boardwalk Empire) and directed to seat 18 in the jurors’ box. In the next room, Bull and Danny are having a chat about existentialism and the pragmatism of TAC as a business. Alerted that the jurors are ready to begin, Bull starts prepping Benny for his opening argument but becomes distracted when Laurel’s biometrics start going haywire. Seeing her duck in anticipation, Bull warns everyone to take cover just as the bomb in the thermos blows, causing the ceiling to collapse, effectively cutting off the mock courtroom and its occupants from the rest of the TAC offices and Cable.
Once the dust clears, Laurel appears with a 3-D printed firearm. Bull gets her to focus on him and starts a discourse, knowing that Cable can hear everything said and will feed him any information she can find through his earpiece. Laurel’s demand is simple: get her husband out of prison. Bull points out that since he pled guilty, there’s no grounds to appeal. She explains she wants the case reopened by the DA’s office.
Once he’s gotten her to admit that she’s not interested in killing anyone, Bull gets Laurel to explain her husband’s case. He’s a former pharmacist five years into a fifteen-year sentence for killing a drug dealer that he was supposedly in a turf war with. As she fills in the details, Danny realizes that she knows the case. Laurel convinces Bull that her case has merit since her husband took a plea deal even though the Feds had no evidence, only the testimony of an undercover asset who claimed to witness the killing.
Outside the mock courtroom, emergency services have arrived and Cable greets Lt. Thader (Evan Parke, The Get Down) who wants to make contact with the “terrorist” responsible for the bomb. Cable reminds him that he was the one who took Bull’s negotiation weekend course and informs him that Bull has it under control. Meanwhile, Laurel’s getting to the reason she picked this day to force a solution for her husband: he’s about to be transferred to the same prison that holds the brother of her husband’s alleged victim. Also, she reveals that the undercover source that bluffed her husband into taking a plea was Special Agent Danielle James.
Taking a firmer grip on the situation now that Laurel seems to have gotten everything off her chest, Bull agrees to take her case but won’t do what she wants – call the ADA, get her husband’s case reopened – and manages to get her to turn over the gun. As it looks like it’ll take about an hour for Lt. Thader and his team to get the debris cleared, he gets Marissa and Chunk on board to run a mock trial. Danny and Benny are incredulous that he’d reward Laurel’s behaviour in this way but Bull points out that she was never given a chance to hear her husband’s trial. To revisit Bull’s opening medley soundbite, the crisis is shining a light on some cracks in the team. It’s not like they’ve never disagreed before but this felt like the first time team members weren’t willing to trust Bull’s judgement.
With Benny prosecuting, Bull defending, and Chunk sitting as judge, they propose the trial experiment to the mock jurors. At first no one’s interested in helping out the woman who nearly blew them up and pointed a gun at them. However, Marissa had pointed out earlier that they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t naturally curious about and interested in being a part of the legal system. It takes Bull throwing in a “danger pay” sweetener, but they get the jurors to play ball.
Back in carnage land, Cable is contacting the ADA who got Laurel’s husband to plead out, Carey Weinbach (Daniel Jenkins, Elementary) for transcripts of the case and some live footage access to the prison cameras on Laurel’s husband. When he gets back to Marissa with the transcripts, he catches sight of Danny and lets Marissa in on the reason he never used her testimony in court – Danny was suspected of using drugs while undercover and so she would have been a liability on the stand.
With Benny and Danny facing him across the aisle, Bull puts on a game face of epic proportions. Using jurors who were struck from the sitting jury to read the testimony from the transcripts, Chunk quickly leads them through an abbreviated version of the original three days of trial before Laurel’s husband took the deal. When Benny puts Danny on the stand, Bull starts in right away, pointing out that she is no longer a Special Agent as she quit the F.B.I. shortly after the case. Benny points out that she was still F.B.I. when the case of originally tried and Bull accuses him of trying to time-travel. “We’re in a farcical, made-up universe of your own design,” Benny counters,”No one else is allowed to make up rules?”
Chunk gets to bang his gavel a lot this episode.
In between questioning sessions, the team convenes and although Bull congratulates Benny on teeing up Danny quite adequately, he guarantees that no one will believe anything she says by the time he’s done with her. Danny, already on edge and combative, dares him to bring it on. Marissa tries to caution Bull from pushing Danny too far with the information they have on her time undercover with the drug gang. “Danny needs to resolve her past,” he intones,”I’m going to attack her and it’s going to help.” Even Marissa doesn’t look convinced by this strategy.
With Danny on the stand, Bull immediately introduces information about how memory is a tricky thing, prone to degrading over time and easily manipulated. Danny stands by her account of the night of the murder and Bull asks her what drugs she had used that night. Under the pressure of his questioning, she admits that the gang leader would put a heavy-duty hallucinogen in their drinks and that she would drink it and induce vomiting afterwards. Bull points out that the ADA at the time of the trial didn’t think she was reliable enough to put on the stands and asks why the TAC jury should believe her now.
This crosses Danny’s breaking point and she storms off the stand, telling Bull she doesn’t care if no one believes her, that Laurel should be getting real help and this trial isn’t doing any good for anyone. In response, Bull puts Laurel on the stand and asks her to describe her husband and their close relationship. For the benefit of the jury, he highlights the fact and she has spent the last five years with no one except this desperate need to free her husband. Benny follows up by prompting her to apologize for her actions in the TAC offices and asking if she was really willing to sacrifice everything, including her own freedom, to get her husband out of prison. She is.
As the emergency services crew nears their goal of clearing the debris and freeing the courtroom occupants, closing arguments are made and the jury returns a not-guilty verdict, to Laurel’s relief and Danny’s disgust. But just as the rescuers burst in, Bull holds the jurors enthralled, explaining that he had shaped the narrative purposefully to draw out a not-guilty verdict from them. By asking Danny a few more questions – which Benny probably would’ve done on redirect but was asked not to by Bull – Bull swiftly changes the jury’s mind and even convinces Laurel of her husband’s guilt.
Throughout the trial, we’re given glimpses of Laurel’s husband being transferred to Rikers Island Prison and he looks exactly as she describes him – bookish, mild-mannered, frightened. As Bull draws out the final strokes in Danny’s testimony, we realize that he’s not as much a victim as he seems: he’s capable of killing just as he’s killed before. Bull points out to Laurel that her husband did everything he could to keep her from seeing that side of him and the energy that must have taken was impressive. As Laurel is taken away by Lt. Thader, Bull reassures her that they’ll do everything they can for her which is nice, if somewhat optimistic. Blowing stuff up in New York City isn’t a light offence by any means.
The team relishes the freedom of being able to leave the building. Everyone heads off for a celebratory drink, dusty and delirious with fresh air, and Bull mends fences with Danny, letting her know that he knows her reasons for leaving the F.B.I. had nothing to do with the Guthrie case and that he will always believe in her. Completely.
Bull airs Tuesday nights at 9pm PT/ET on CBS.
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