Recap and review of Deception – Season 1 Episode 3 – A Drop of Blood and a Microscope:
Well, this was a little less rough than the previous two weeks. If nothing else, tonight’s “A Drop of Blood and a Microscope” shows that Deception is actually building its story at a reasonable clip, deciding against playing coy with the viewer, and essentially putting all its cards on the table. Okay, maybe not all of its cards, but at least we get a better sense of the full-scale menace of the Bowers family, and not just one or two of its members. There’s also an elaboration on the theme of family, and just how difficult it is to escape your biological relations. You don’t get to choose your family. The best you can do is to make the most out of the family you end up with, even if they’re a cabal of corruption from top to bottom. This premise is hardly new. Hell, it’s as old as storytelling itself. But it gives the series a foundation around which to base its mystery. It’s true that the show isn’t necessarily pulling a Reunion (does anybody else remember that short-lived FOX show, or is it just me?), where we’re told conclusively that “one of these people definitely committed the murder”, but the show is passively inferring that members of the Bowers family know far more than they’re leading on. Whether a member of the Bowers family turns out to be the culprit or not, the intrigue of their secrecy is enough to give the series something resembling momentum – an impetus to compel the story forward. It’s far from perfect, but given how dreadful this show can occasionally be (despite rare moments that show its promise as a salacious primetime soap mystery), I’ll take what I can get.
This week’s episode sees Joanna (Meagan Good) going deeper into her cover, this time accompanying playboy Julian (Wes Brown) to Barbados on the encouragement of Robert (Victor Garber), who believes that Joanna has a calming effect on his son, which will help keep him focused as he delivers his pitch of the company’s cancer drug at a conference being held at the exotic locale. Julian wastes no time in making his move on Joanna, and this romantic conflict of interest, as Joanna still has an iffy thing going on with Agent Will Moreno (Laz Alonso), only makes her undercover facade more complicated to uphold. As per usual, Julian’s presence triggers flashbacks to their youthful romance, and I feel like there’s only so many ways to tell the audience the same thing. We get it. They used to bang all the time. Move on.
Thankfully, the episode moves on from the tawdry nature of the romance and fans out into the broader implications of Joanna’s sudden exposure to the spotlight. Apparently, being the arm candy of the hotshot son of a family in possession of a multi-million dollar empire is going to attract media attention. This development threatens to throw a massive wrench in Joanna’s ability to maintain her cover, especially in an internet age where all it takes is one person who recognizes Joanna as a cop on the streets to blow up the entire charade. In addition, the plot thickens with the introduction of the threatening, mysterious Senator Dwight Haverstock (John Larroquette), a former close friend of Robert’s who orders Julian to get him an audience with Robert, or he’ll personally make sure that the Bowers’ new wonder drug doesn’t pass the FDA.
In other developments, Edward (Tate Donovan) is having a crisis of conscience, spurred on by the urgings of his wife Samantha (Marin Hinkle) to get out from under the yoke of his family’s villainy. This is rich, coming from her, given that Edward is the most cartoonishly villainous of the bunch, except maybe Robert’s wife, Sophia (Katherine LaNasa), who threatens Samantha at an indoor tennis court, warning her to stay the course with Edward, or risk losing her children. This feeds into the larger question of Edward’s involvement in Vivian’s death, as she had apparently been calling him nonstop in the weeks leading up to her death, perhaps looking for aid in her whistle-blowing efforts. If nothing else, Edward comes out no worse than Julian, who we learn, via flashbacks, was the person getting into Vivian’s car in the pilot. They get into an argument and Julian backhands Vivian, leaving the telltale imprint of his ring. Though we saw Julian disposing of the ring in the pilot, Joanna is still able to make the connection to Julian when she notices the ring in a picture and realizes that Julian hasn’t been entirely truthful or forthcoming. This is another in a series of blows to Joanna’s psyche this week, as she’s attacked in her hotel room by a mysterious, masked stranger, instinctively utilizing her defensive training as a cop to fend him off and give chase, before Julian arrives, restraining her and preventing her from pursuing the masked man. Who was this masked person? Why did Julian prevent her from going after him? Why did he not go after this masked man himself? It’s all part of a larger fabric of misinformation that’s part-and-parcel of being involved with the Bowers, it would seem. The collection of stressful events leads Joanna back into the arms of Will at the end of the episode, in a love scene that proves that this show at least does torrid romance right, although I fear this will only lead to more big-boy posturing from Will, where he continually threatens to pull her out of the assignment, with Joanna stubbornly refusing.
Lastly, there’s a subplot involving Mia (Ella Rae Peck) and a handsome stranger who insinuates himself into her life, at the behest of another stranger for whom he’s working. It’s all a circuitous way of continuing the arc of Mia actually being Vivian’s daughter, and not merely her little sister. Mia shows signs of developing into a compelling character, but the series rarely gives her enough time to flower into someone interesting. In fact, it’s pretty remarkable, and a credit to Ella Rae Peck, that she feels as three-dimensional as she does, given her overall lack of screentime. She’s such an understated character that I wouldn’t be surprised if she was somehow involved in Vivian’s murder, though really, it’s far too early into the series to be making those kinds of leaps. But the fact that there are so many relatively interesting possibilities as to the nature and perpetrator of Vivian’s murder is a credit to a series with too few to its name.
“A Drop of Blood and a Microscope” gives us a little bit more to go on than the previous two weeks have given us, and I can certainly appreciate that. Somewhere in this mess of soap opera cliches and one-dimensional characters with their one-dimensional motivations is a series that could be as compelling as any primetime soap on TV right now. Or any mystery series, for that matter. However, it’s going to take a lot of work in the character department to turn the ship around. At the very least, this week’s episode showed signs of self-awareness, that this show has to be more than a mystery and some sex. It has to build characters we can care about, beyond simply their relation to the overarching mystery. Every character has to be his or her own person first, not simply a caricature of a potential villain in a whodunit.