Murder In The First Episode Review 1×04 – “Burning Woman”

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Hildy Gets Caught In The Investigative Crosshairs And The Defendant Goes A Little Stark Raving Mad In Newest Episode of TNT’s “Murder In The First”

After finally taking their man into custody last week, SFPD Homicide Detective Terry English and his team are adamant that Erich Blunt – tech mastermind, billionaire playboy and accused murderer on two horrific accounts – will not be able to pay, beg, borrow or steal his way out of this one. Indeed, in episode four – entitled “Burning Woman” – of TNT’s gripping new crime drama Murder in The First, as the people and press watch on with baited breath, Blunt’s cold, clever and calculating attorney Warren Daniels finds himself presented with yet another seemingly impossible situation where he is forced to concoct a story strong enough to plant enough reasonable doubt in the judge’s mind – as well as that of any future jury’s – in regards to Erich’s guilt.

Meanwhile, Hildy faces official action and possible criminal charges regarding her fatal shooting of the violent step father of Diego: her child informant from a previous case. And although Hildy knows she had been left with no choice but to pull that fateful trigger, matters are made worse when Diego’s mother – and her dodgy lawyer – coerce him into joining his mother in giving a false account of the killing: one that if used successfully to make a claim against the city could earn them in the millions of dollars.

More than one promising career and hard won reputation lays on the thin line of the law this week. So with that in mind, let’s dive in once again into this simmering, deadly pot of politics, personal gain and the pursuit of justice, shall we?

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Bad Boys Will Be Bad Boys

I’ll be honest and say in some ways, following the mood swings of Erich Blunt feels a little like we’re crash test dummies strapped into his very expensive test car: unable to do anything but wait helplessly for the whiplash-inducing experience it is to sit back as the audience and try to figure out not just whether or not he killed Cindy, but indeed what kind of man he is at heart. Seriously. There were some moments – and indeed there were many of them this week – where Erich felt every bit the right, arrogant, entitled brat: the kind of character it becomes so easy for us to hate because he’s just a woefully conceited prick with a big bank account and no concept of social accountability. I mean, think about it. It’s not just Cindy who’s dead here. His unborn child died, and yet there seems to not even be a scrap of emotion in him over that. And yet, every now and then there’s glimpses that he’s…well, maybe not a good man, but perhaps also not a totally bad one either. And more than that, moments where you really can’t help but believe him when he says he didn’t kill Cindy. For example, where he gets up in court and says ‘not guilty’: for all his douchebaggery and smugness the rest of the time, there is still (for me at least) something very believable in his manner of voice in that moment: believable enough that I wonder just how much we as the audience may already have succumbed to Warren Daniel’s argument of reasonable doubt.

Mind Over What Matters

For my part I have to say the whole rave in the desert thing – although it served its greater purpose in the plot: to give Daniels a reason to walk away – seemed a bit strange and over the top a method to achieve that goal. Like it just seemed really odd: particularly in light of the fact that we are just getting no chance whatsoever to get a firm grasp on just how committed Erich is to actually clearing his name. I mean think about it: isn’t it a bit weird for him to be so desperate for everyone to know he’s not guilty – to want to clear his name that much – and then skip town in an action where a) you know you’ll absolutely be breaching bail conditions, and b) go somewhere where you know you’ll absolutely be recognised, to a place that will without question be full of people with camera phones. I mean seriously. That’s not just arrogant, or even stupid: that’s borderline bi-polar. Which begs the question I suppose: what is going on in this man’s brain? And is the greater drama of the answer to that question ultimately distracting us from who may yet be the real killer, who may yet still just be sitting beneath our very noses?

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Stand Your Ground

The whole situation around Hildy and the investigation into the shooting of Diego’s step father was a plot that (at least for me) played out well for about 90 percent of this episode. For starters, I was really getting into the whole dynamic being played out in the idea that while both we and Hildy know she was telling the absolute truth of what happened, she was beginning to doubt her own memories of the events a little bit. I loved how she was being challenged by the lies being used to indict her, to keep remembering that she did not mistake what she saw, and that she truly did the only thing she could have done in the circumstances. I loved the broader dynamic there that played out into her relationships with Terry and her daughter, as these two core characters in her story sought in their own ways to fight for Hildy, her true purpose and her sense of self.

Then unfortunately came that ten percent. Firstly, after all they had argued over – and especially after their impassioned and angry exchange in the parking lot – it seemed a bit to sudden and neat that Diego’s mother would suddenly not just change her story and tell the truth, but more than that, do it on camera and ask that Hildy be commended. I mean, did that just feel a bit too easy and not quite real to you? Or was it just me? The other area that let them down in Hildy’s (and indeed Terry’s) character development was that kiss that the SFPD partners shared in her kitchen after the investigation is over and it’s confirmed Mulligan can go back to work. I mean I get it, really I do. These two have a beautiful, strong, earthy chemistry that you can’t deny because the characters – like the actors one would argue – play so well and so comfortably off each other’s traits and nuances. But for my part, having them kiss now – having them have that moment so early on in the piece – felt like they jumped the gun way too early on this element of the story. I want to see more about what makes this partnership work – what makes it tick – before I see them make out; doing that gives me a reason to invest more in the characters both as individuals and as a couple, and unfortunately here I have to wonder here whether they’ve plucked that flower a little bit too early.

That said, who knows: there may yet be a juicy spanner in the works if Erich is still as infatuated with the brave, bold and badass Detective Mulligan, as he seems to be: especially after his little video moment at the rave. And after their romantic moment, where will Terry fit into all this? Indeed it could be very interesting to see what situations could arise and whose clouded judgement costs them the most, here.

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Final Verdict

Whilst it’s not my favorite so far, “Burning Woman” was for the most part a solid installment in this story, if perhaps not the strongest. It was great in the insight it gave us into Erich’s inner team during the trial, whilst Erich’s exchanges with Daniels were very tense, very telling and very fraught with authority on Daniels’ part in particular. I loved the way James Cromwell brought that menacing aspect to a character that really seems to be the only one who to date has met Erich’s ego and – rather than be crushed by it – put it well and truly back in its rightful place. He leaves Blunt looking less like a brilliant billionaire businessman, and more like a quivering, petulant schoolboy who’s just been faced with the prospect of a solid caning and ten years’ worth of detention. In any case, I hope that it’s a character door that remains open going forward; Cromwell just feels too cruelly good to say goodbye to yet.

Script wise, Stephen Bochco and Eric Lodal (via Alison Cross’s teleplay) – while collectively it wasn’t their absolute best – still delivered a strong instalment to the show’s greater story with their writing this week, particularly in the dialogue between Daniels and Blunt. Those exchanges really highlighted some core personal traits in each of those characters, and the dialogue itself gave both Cromwell and Tom Felton a decent amount of room to creatively move within their performances: a smart move for sure when you think about how talented those two men are. Ben Bolt’s directing meanwhile was likewise as solid, and characterised by well blocked scenes that let not only the actors but their body language as well do a considerable amount of the talking. Indeed attention to that particular detail – or lack thereof – can often make or break an audience’s belief in what they’re watching, so it was good to see how consistent Bolt was in this area.

But now to the bigger questions at hand. What next? Despite her being cleared in the investigation, Hildy now finds herself in a triple sandwich between Erich’s growing obsession, Terry’s affections, and a murder investigation she is determined to see through to the end. Meanwhile, have we said goodbye already to Warren Daniel’s for the last time? Well for my part, as we all wait with baited breath for episode five, I genuinely hope not. Until next week everyone…

Final Thoughts & Questions…
  • This guy that Erich threatened – who ended up taking Erich’s pictures at the Burning Man festival and sending it to the DA to prove he had broken his bail conditions – seems like he could end up being a real spanner in the works. But it just feels like there’s more to that story than we’re getting right now.
  • What was the deal with you, Pilot Dude? Seriously, you do not strike me as the kind of guy who dresses up like a My Little Pony accessory and spirit finger dances like a cheap, drunk court jester in the desert. And if you are, well…then…I don’t know dude. Take up reading. Or something. Seriously. You look like that hallucination I had that one time when I discovered I was allergic to cold and flu meds.
  • There seems to be a real internal conflict growing within Erich’s team, but helping least of all is that drugged up lady creature who works with him at Applsan. She is NAH-STEE.
  • Would be really interested to see what you guys thought of the kiss between Hildy and Terry? Were you glad? Annoyed? Did it feel right to you?
  • Will Warren Daniels come back into the picture at any point do you think? Or have we seen the last of his clinical, cold heart in the courtroom?