In every compelling series, there have to be a few really pivotal episodes that blow open the doors on our core characters’ motivations and vulnerabilities. We’ve had a few peeks behind the curtain on Bull and his team but it takes putting one of their own in a true position of danger to give us a hard look at where the line in the sand actually is.
And throwing in a new character with no background in trial science and her own agenda and drive only heightens the sense of potential crisis. Although the title of this episode mentions BULLets, it quickly feels like a frying pan and fire metaphor would be more apt.
The ever-looming spectre of the investigation into Benny’s actions in his previous career in the District Attorney’s Office finally becomes a reality when he’s invited to lunch with old “friends,” Wilson Jessup (Delaney Williams, The Wire) and Brent Jansen (Joel de la Fuente, The Man in the High Castle).
Bringing Bull along with him, Benny is stunned when instead of lunch, he ends up arrested. Furthermore, in court, he is again ambushed when what he had predicted would be a slap on the wrist turns into a potential ten years in prison for planting evidence.
Bull recognizes the potential consequences of the situation and sends Marissa to research who would be the best attorney to put on Benny’s defense. She comes up with the name, J.P. Nunnelly, and arranges a restaurant meeting for Bull at 4:30AM where he initially mistakes Nunnelly (Eliza Dushku, Dollhouse) for a waitress.
It’s a bit of a collision between two forces of nature. Nunnelly explains that she’s a “fixer” and, if Bull is interested in her services, she can make Benny’s problem “go away.” In exchange, she expects T.A.C. to provide its services to her firm’s cases. Bull makes the deal. This is definitely where I started to suspect we’d left the frying pan already.
By the next day, Nunnelly had made a plea deal appear out of nowhere. Benny refuses to plea if it means that he has to say he planted evidence, an admission that would put serial killer Hayden Watkins (Christopher James Baker, True Detective) on a path to suing the state and overturning the conviction Benny feels was justified.
Dushku, as Nunnelly, gets some truly stellar lines which she delivers like a superstar. When Benny questions how there could be a deal now when there wasn’t the day before, she’s pretty straightforward about her ability to make things happen. “Yesterday is not in my purview,” she states,”Welcome to today.”
When Benny rejects the deal, Bull tries to let Nunnelly off the hook for the case, asking if she has a litigator she could recommend since she hadn’t “fixed” the situation exactly. That puts her back up pretty quickly and she ups the ante, bargaining for T.A.C.’s services on no less than three of her casesÂ when she wins Benny’s case for him.
Our good doctor is obviously very invested in this case because of Benny, a lot more emotionally involved than he typically is, and it shows in some of the tactics he resorts to in his interactions with Nunnelly. Including his willingness to continue bargaining his company’s services away.
He owns up to it when she calls him on the flirting and physicality he employs to demonstrate the predictive nature of trial science and admits that he’s probably trying to avoid thinking about what might happen to Benny if this case goes wrong. It’s a credit to the roundedness of her character that she recognizes a genuine vulnerability in this admission and doesn’t jump on it.
Being an unusual case, the usual procedural elements aren’t a part of the build up to trial. We, as an audience, have no insight to the jury members as they don’t showÂ voir dire and, although Marissa’s keeping an eye on the mirror jury’s reactions, J.P. pretty much scoffs when Bull tries to give her a heads up. “A blind man could read that jury,” she mutters.
When she’s given the chance to question Benny on the stand, it’s pretty clear that her confidence in her own litigation skills is well-deserved. The T.A.C. team listens in and Chunk is impressed with her ability to humanize Benny and Marissa is able to confirm that Nunnelly is successful in swaying the jury from believing Benny is a bad guy to believing he’s a good man.
Unfortunately, as Danny points out, some of the jurors feel that a good man like Benny may still have planted evidence to prevent Watkins from being about to kill again. Bull explains that they want an acquittal and mixed beliefs like that may only get them a hung jury.
Meanwhile, Benny is suspicious of how much Nunnelly seems to know about the details of the case from ten years ago. He demands to know, as her client, where she’s getting her info but she keeps her cards close and corrects him in that Bull is her client while Benny is her defendant.
The trial ends in dramatic, yet predictable fashion, as Nunnelly had already pointed out that an acquittal was unlikely unless she could present the court with a viable alternative culprit. Always the efficiency expert, she delivers exactly that by roasting her golden goose, aka former detective Wilson Jessup who had given her the files and transcripts in order to help Benny’s case.
Those files allow to her figure out that Jessup had actually planted the evidence. When confronted with this on the stand, he confesses it all and Benny watches a friend’s career blow up in order for him to walk free.
I really appreciated the elegance of the writing in this episode. When Bull’s opening voice-over about dodging bullets at the beginning of the episode ends with,”The only thing about those bullets you dodge is that they do keep traveling. And, sometimes, they come back to hit you right between the eyes,” we assume he’s referring to Benny’s situation. However, the obvious conclusion by the end is that he is actually talking about Jessup.
Of course, with T.A.C.’s commitment to Nunnelly secured for the remaining episodes of the season, there’s still time for more a few more BULLseye shots to land, isn’t there? There’s definitely a hint of danger still in the air. Pretty sure Bull’s looking forward to it too.
Bull airs Tuesday nights at 9pm PT/ET on CBS.
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