This episode is about a proto-Alex Jones (a just okay Daniel von Bargen) who incites one of his listeners to kill an ATF agent as payback for Waco (back when the sovereign citizens weren’t running government agencies) and the good guys having to figure out how they can get von Bargen for murder. It’s the first trial episode of “Michael Hayes” and it is not a good trial sequence. Not even for 1997. At some point David Caruso just starts doing a full Al Pacino with recurring judge Esther Scott yelling at him to knock it off for way too long. Scott’s not good this episode, which is too bad, because it’s entirely the script’s fault.
Of course John Romano gets half the script credit—I mean, Kelly Rowan shows up needlessly as the FBI agent who last time had the hots for a disinterested Caruso and this time seems to have read the room, but she has nothing important to do in the narrative. Other Romano script regular feature—Ruben Santiago-Hudson getting bad material—gets averted; Santiago-Hudson just doesn’t get much to do. Well, Caruso still has to tell him obvious things to do about his job (Santiago-Hudson was going to ignore Internet-based von Bargen fan clubs, Caruso has to tell him to actually investigate them). What ought to be Santiago-Hudson’s material gets shifted over to Rowan, but then there’s the added benefit of Rowan getting to team up with Rebecca Rigg. Caruso is letting Rigg run with the case—much to Peter Outerbridge’s dismay—which leads to some good acting through weak material for Rigg and some profound Bechdel fails.
Especially since Rigg ends up getting her real U.S. Attorney through witness manipulation and so on. The show’s very careful to demonize rich evil bigots (von Bargen and his cracker caricature lawyer Ben Jones) while patronizing poor dumb bigots (the killer’s girlfriend Boti Bliss). It’s a fine line, because Caruso’s ostensibly got his righteous white savior, Irish Catholic anger thing going on (hence getting away with yelling in court and ignoring Black woman judge Scott). There’s also the additional factor history’s proven “Hayes” right to some terrifying degree; the people in the nineties who were worried about potentially riled up domestic terrorists were not wrong, after all. Hearing the FBI worry about white supremacists—in the late nineties—is one heck of a “oh, the good old days.”
Unfortunately, thanks to Ashford and Romano not being very good at what they’re trying to do—though, again, to be fair, it’s CBS and it’s 1997, there weren’t that many possibilities—but it comes off like a sensationalized, exploitative liberal scaremongering about working poor non-college educated whites. It just happens to be correct, just from a time when it’s possible it wouldn’t end up being correct. See, if it were well-written, it’d age great.
Anyway, while Caruso’s letting Rigg do all the hard work so he can do the yelling in court, there’s a subplot about his brother, David Cubitt, getting involved with organized crime. Caruso tries to talk to him about it, Cubitt just wants to talk about Caruso’s great unrequited romance with Mary B. Ward (Cubitt’s suffering wife). Only Caruso and Ward have very mild chemistry, certainly not romantic, not even when they slow dance; it’s still more than Cubitt musters with anyone so I guess it’s a valid concern. It’s just this nonsense leftover from the pilot.
It’s a rollercoaster of a character arc for Rigg and she gets through it; it’s unclear if it’ll add up to anything going forward. But it’s pretty clear Romano-credited episodes of “Hayes” are going to continue to wildly disappoint. Though it’s the best Caruso’s been so far with patently bad material.