There are some really big obvious things to talk about with this episode of “Michael Hayes,” like the Catholic Church and the romanticization of terrorism, specifically the IRA, and how popular American entertainment portrayed both right up until mid-September 2001 for the terrorism and, I don’t know, the late 2010s for the Catholic Church. They still give the Church a pass but they at least pretend to acknowledge it being an international child rape cabal.
What’s interesting about Act of Contrition is the fine line it has to walk. David Caruso might be openly Irish Catholic, but he’s a U.S. Attorney first so when it turns out they need to break the confessional, he’s going to throw a bunch of valid points at priest Peter Onorati but it’s very clear Caruso’s bad for wanting the Church to help stop an Irish terrorist. The only people who agree with him are Protestants after all; the show handles the denominations mostly through implication, though Rebecca Rigg’s single salient contribution is to encourage Caruso to break the priest not the Church. There’s a scene where Church lawyer Robin Gammell confronts Caruso and for a second I thought it might actually be interesting but then it’s just Gammell shaming on him.
Caruso’s character arc—realizing, oh wait, maybe this Catholic Church thing is a problem, wait, maybe sincerely held religious beliefs aren’t a real thing, wait, it’s time to take my nephew to church—is… lackluster. Though maybe not in the nineties. “Michael Hayes” was CBS after all. But, yes, the juxtapose with all the Church stuff is nephew Jimmy Galeota prepping for his first communion—Caruso’s apparently so super Catholic he sequesters Galeota for his lessons (or Mary B. Ward wanted to audition for a better part in something else)—and some montages of pensive Caruso with Roman Catholic paraphernalia. Caruso’s good, but it’s all a trope.
There also seems to be some tension in the direction of the show. Demoted show creator John Romano shares the writing credit with Michael Harbert and seems to be trying to “right the wrongs” of Paul Haggis’s show running. Romano apparently really wants Caruso to have a romance with an investigator, introducing pointless but fetching FBI agent Kelly Rowan, who hangs on his every word while Caruso just tries to get out of the scene like it’s his last day on “NYPD Blue.” Caruso doesn’t even bother with the professionalism he exhibited in the pilot with now dead girlfriend Dina Meyer. Though the script’s so packed with one-liners and throwaway scenes, it’s no wonder he’s rushed.
Romano and Harbert also can’t get a good part going for Ruben Santiago-Hudson here either (because Rowan’s got his job) and he can’t hack it; it’s not Santiago-Hudson’s worst performance, but it’s not his best either and he’s now on a sharp downward trend.
Galeota’s cloying, that kind of child actor where they say cut and print when the kid can get through the dialogue, not act.
There’s also some male projection with Susan Traylor’s nun, who was always hot for Caruso’s bod when they were kids and is willing to talk horny as a nun so he knows it. It’s weird. And Caruso’s got no chemistry with her either, so it’s pointless too.
I’d really like to not dread Romano’s name in the writer credits, but I’m not sure he’ll ever give me reason to not.
Though it was cool to see Onorati and Caruso together, even if Onorati’s part is thin and Caruso’s is incomplete; both are quite good considering the constraints.