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Mothers, Lock Up Your Babies, & Don’t Drink The Water: Motive Finale Double Feature Review

By on August 30, 2013
LOUIS FERREIRA, KRISTIN LEHMAN. IMAGE © ABC

LOUIS FERREIRA, KRISTIN LEHMAN. IMAGE © ABC

Motive caps off its freshman season with a double feature, presenting us with a child-killer, a horrifyingly chilling CYA assisted suicide, and a botched attempt to eliminate a mass murderer from the gene pool. While ‘Ruthless,’ the first of the double-header, follows the usual Motive formula, the second and far more disturbing offering, entitled ‘The One Who Got Away,’ is a gripping departure, guest-starring the formidable Amanda Tapping of Stargate SG-1 notoriety, and provides a rare glimpse into Detective Angie Flynn’s past.

Though it has done well in the ratings, this reviewer remains convicted that Motive would do even better in the American market were it to include deeper insight into what makes these great characters tick. Flynn and Lucas have a refreshingly fantastic relationship. Was it always that way? How did they come to be partners? We don’t need upheaval and drama, sex and treachery, people, just a deeper, more compelling connection. With the final episode of the season, Motive is on the perfect tract to deliver just that.

Once again Motive paints a portrait of victim-cum-killer in executive producer/writer James Thorpe’s ‘The One Who Got Away,’ as Flynn, Vega, and Lucas assemble the sickening montage of a case which reveals a conniving pedophile whose rhetoric is her weapon of mass destruction. In a scenario involving three, but potentially five, murders, our ‘first’ offender is Cam Radcliffe, the disturbed twentysomething patient of nefarious and beguiling child psychologist Dr. Kate Robbins (Amanda Tapping). Per usual, the episode opens revealing Cam Radcliffe (Chris Mason, soon to be appearing in Vampire Academy with Zoey Deutch) as perpetrator against his victim, high school-aged Nathan Conroy (Grayson Gabriel).

AMANDA TAPPING

AMANDA TAPPING. IMAGE © ABC

When Detective Flynn discovers Conroy was a therapy patient, she recognizes the name of his psychologist as an expert witness in a disturbing manslaughter trial Flynn sat jury for in her pre-badge days. A bus dispatcher at the time of the case, Flynn had been the only hold-out against the accused’s innocence, but eventually allowed herself to be swayed by Dr. Robbins’ compelling testimony to the salvageable nature of her client’s psyche, and of his innocence—a change of heart Detective Flynn has questioned many times since.

When Radcliffe’s possible involvement surfaces, Flynn recognizes him as the juvenile whose manslaughter case Dr. Robbins testified in support of, and confesses her doubt from the trial to Vega and Lucas. As the current case unfurls, we learn that Radcliffe had indeed committed the murder he had been on trial for, and that his parents were killed in a car accident. Was he also responsible for their deaths, bringing his death toll to four known victims? One can’t help but wonder.

The plot thickens as Flynn and Vega rush to locate a distraught Radcliffe after he critically injures a police officer who pulls him over suspecting his complicity in Conroy’s murder. The stunned and shaken detectives locate Radcliffe moments after he has committed suicide. Coroner Dr. Betty Rogers (Lauren Holly) irrevocably connects Conroy and Radcliffe during the autopsy of the later’s lungs when she finds the same rare tropical pollen she’d identified in Conroy’s lungs. Case closed, right? Well, per usual, Flynn insists on identifying plausible motive for the murder and for the suicide, for which copious tears, but no note, were found.

Digging deeper, Detective Lucas uncovers that Dr. Robbins had been taking advantage of Radcliffe’s vulnerability to engage him sexually. As Radcliffe grew into his twenties, Robbins had begun grooming his replacement—enter Nathan Conroy, stage left. When Radcliffe suspects this, he lures Conroy to Robbins’ farm and kills him inside her greenhouse (hence the rare Fuchsia magellanica aurea flower pollen), then drags him back to the city and buries him in the park opposite Robbins’ office building, like a dog returning above for a treat. Aye, chiguagua!

Throughout the case, a silver-tongued Robbins chillingly attempts to manipulate Flynn into taking responsibility for Radcliffe’s previous acquittal. Robbins’ manipulations do not phase Flynn, a mature, well-grounded adult. However, Cam Radcliffe is defenseless against Robbins to the extent that he agrees to ‘make things right’ of the wrong he’s caused by implicating her, and to prove his love for her, by committing suicide. Like a siren to a lonely sailor, Dr. Robbins sings Radcliffe a fatal lullaby of self-asphyxiation, and believes herself to be free of suspicion. Now the death toll is five.

Confronting Robbins at her greenhouse where they find the rare tropical pollen, Flynn and Vega are led on a brief chase into a stable where Robbins considers killing herself, shoots at Vega, and is then shot dead by Flynn. Flynn is visibly shaken be the entire ordeal, and horrified at the prospect of a trusted professional taking advantage of a vulnerable teenage boy. Flynn maintains shooting stance after killing Robbins until Vega removes her gun from her hands.

Note: In a brilliant twist of metaphorical lyricism, the nectar from the drooping blooms of the Fuchsia Magellanica Aurea found in Dr. Robbins’ greenhouse attracts hummingbirds, the smallest of birds. How appropriate that a pedophile would grow such a plant, no?

Chilling case, right? However, the most impressive piece of acting in this episode, perhaps of the entire first season, is the emotional scene during which Flynn sends her son, Manny (Cameron Bright), on his way to Europe to meet his father for the first time. Kristin Lehman masterfully portrays the tender reserved heartbreak of a mother confronted by her baby boy’s transition into manhood, a stage of life during which she can no longer protect him from a world which will inevitably change him, and most probably hurt him. As a mother of a son, this reviewer was moved to speechlessness during this scene. Feel free to pause for a reflective silence at the end of this sentence, moms of America.

The first half of the two episode finale, ‘Ruthless’, directed by Stefan Pleszcznskihas newlywed Sonia Brauer poisoning the orange juice of Brendan Kendall, the executive assistant to the head of Cybrex Plastics. Apparently, cyanide isn’t just for breakfast anymore.

The true aim of Sonia Brauer and Gord McNally, co-conspirators, was to murder Cybrex medical consultant Dr. Hillary Burns (Anna Galvin). In a previous job, Burns had acted as medical consultant to Cross Pulp and Paper in a class-action suit claiming environmental negligence. Their suit asserted that the bleaching chemicals being pumped into the nearby community of Baker Bay were caustic and carcinogenic. Dr. Burns helped Cross Pulp and Paper get the case thrown out of court. As a result, forty-seven Baker Bay locals developed and succumbed to cancer within a twelve-month period. Does that make Dr. Burns a mass murderer? Perhaps a better label would be ‘perpetrator of multiple culpable homicides’? Semantics aside, she sure don’t look innocent.

What about the executives at Cross Pulp and Paper? Would they have ceased their caustic commerce if Dr. Burns’ research had reported a different finding, or would they have scoured the globe for another medical consultant willing to trade their expert opinion for a house in the Hamptons? Reality is stranger than fiction, people. The kind of shite portrayed in this episode does happen. Need I remind you of Silkwood and Erin Brockovich?

Once again Motive asks us, what would you be willing to lose in order to get what you want, be it wealth, fame, love, vengeance, or an assurance of secrecy? ‘Ruthless’ poses the question, how would having only six months to live affect that decision? Such is the case for killer Sonia Brauer, and now we’ve seen her choice.

Over the last three months, Motive has introduced us to Detectives Flynn, Vega, and Lucas, focusing not so much on their personal lives, their possible tawdry relationships, or their whiz-bang technology, but on their ability to become invisible in deference to a criminal’s emotional journey, a journey sometimes pathological, sometimes accidental, into the irrevocable surreality of having stolen life from another human being.

Peter Falk of Columbo proved that the inverted why-done-it mystery is doable. Have Motive writers, directors, and actors successfully delivered provocative content, compelling portrayals, plausible evidence, and authentic motives, such that we would gladly subvert our curiosity for how and who—in deference to whyagain in 2014?

Only flawless performances could achieve such a lofty goal—which is why Motive has more often than not been one of the top two most highly viewed programs in its time slot this summer. For a freshman offering, that’s nothing to shake a hockey stick at (queue O Canada! on the loud speakers, Gretzky!). Many of us, myself included, would very much like to see more of Motive, but next time we need more insight into who these characters are as people and how they got to be where they are—more masterful scenes that give Lehman (and Vega) opportunities to show us what they’re made of.

Thanks to the 6.42 million viewers who voted with their remote controls last night, Motive had its second highest eyeball turn out of the season. However, the final vote belongs to ABC. You, keep your eye on ScreenSpy and we’ll keep you informed as soon as we are.