Michael Hayes (1997) s01e19 – Power Play

The entire episode hinges on Allison Smith’s performance as a Patty Hearst-type who falls in with a post-Waco vengeance militia. Or at least if it were good it would. The performance. The episode’s not bad, with decent guest star turns from Byron Minns as a suspicious ATF agent, and then Linda Carlson and Frank Converse as Smith’s parents. But it’s nowhere near as good as it ought to be.

The episode spotlights Smith, time and again, even though she just draws attention to the flimsiness of the story. The real story kicks off after the episode’s over—given all the reveals on what’s been going on before the episode. David Caruso and Peter Outerbridge are trying one of the militia guys for murder only Smith shows up to say Minns is lying. They start investigating (Ruben Santiago-Hudson is around at this point in the episode… he’s going to disappear, hopefully to shoot a safety pilot for next season), bringing in Converse—a hard ass blue blood judge—and Carlson and giving Outerbridge a decent scene or two but then Minns arrests Smith and it becomes Single White Female all of a sudden. Smith starts stalking Caruso and so on.

The conclusion—or more like second half of the episode—has one of the militia members taking hostages in a federal building and Caruso trying to convince Smith to help de-escalate the situation. Hillary Danner’s around presumably because it was her week not to go off and shoot that safety pilot (in addition to Santiago-Hudson vanishing from the episode, Rebecca Rigg never appears). Though Jimmy Galeota does show up for a couple scenes to remind when Caruso had some kind of character development on the show. Some kind of character even.

Before the hostage situation, the episode has a mildly intriguing thing going—it’s doing Caruso investigating government conspiracies without it being the conspiracy mythology the show’s been trying to gin up and the corruption angle is engaging–but once the hostage thing takes over….

It all of a sudden matters whether episode director Vahan Moosekian is going to be able to make it thrilling (he’s not) or suspenseful (also no). And then to have it all be about Smith during that portion of the episode too… it just doesn’t work. It can’t. Bonnie Marks gets the script credit and the script’s at fault for many of the episode’s problems, including Smith’s character and its writing. But everyone else is able to make the writing work—Jodi Long finally gets more to do after being office scenery for most of the series (she hasn’t had anything to do until she had to tell Caruso not to be passively racist about ten episodes ago) and then ends up getting the shit end of the stick in a scene to showcase Converse’s privilege.

With a good lead guest star and a better plot, this episode could’ve been a slam dunk. Instead, it’s just not as bad as the new normal (yet still manages to remind the show’s a shambles of its potential).

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