Darn you, Conviction, for interrupting what started as a mega-hot makeout session between Hayes and Conner at the end of last week’s episode. Granted, breaking news about the pair’s secret deal to spare Hayes jail time in exchange for putting her at the helm of the CIU might spell disaster for both of them, but couldn’t we have seen a bit more kissing first? Especially since said kissing might not happen again for quite some time, if the last few moments of tonight’s installment are any indication.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning: Episode 4 opens with a compilation of news reports and soundbites all about the former first daughter’s bust for cocaine possession. The camera cuts to the apartment Hayes shares with her brother, Jackson (the delightful and underrated Daniel Franzese of Mean Girls and Looking fame), who’s sweetly offering words of encouragement for what Hayes is about to face. “You ready?” he asks, and the two down some espresso and head outside to confront the waiting press corps.
Jackson ushers Hayes into a car, but before the door is shut, Hayes turns to the throng of media and casually remarks, “It’s all recreational use, people,” as Jackson shoots her THE LOOK. You know, the one all of us have given a friend, sibling or significant other when it’s time for them to just shut up already.
Case No. 4: Penny Price
When Hayes arrives at work and asks her team to pitch the CIU’s next case, they balk — apparently, they didn’t prepare because they weren’t sure if she’d show up (i.e. they assumed she’d be fired). But Tess, ever the overeager boss-pleaser, comes through with the case of Penny Price (Teri Polo, The Fosters), a mom sentenced to 20 years for second-degree murder in the death of her son, Owen. The severely autistic 12-year-old allegedly died of a sodium overdose, which the prosecution claimed happened on account of Penny force-feeding him an entire bottle of soy sauce.
The jury found Penny guilty after less than an hour of deliberation. We learn she came across as “cold and unemotional” on the stand — she didn’t cry or act the way grieving mothers are “supposed to,” I guess. Penny’s video blog (aptly titled “Mother’s Little Burden”) reveals Owen flew into rages and physically abused his mother, but one vlog entry gave the prosecution its ace in the hole: A bruised Penny — the hint of a smile on her face — confessing to the camera “Sometimes I just wanna kill him” a mere week before Owen’s death.
Maxine and Sam pay a visit to Penny in prison, where she maintains her innocence but admits she deserves what’s happened to her. Not for killing Owen, but for neglecting to keep him safe. No matter how much Owen hurt her, she says, he was her responsibility and she failed. Sam, whose presumption of Penny’s guilt is more than obvious, asks why she thought about killing Owen (she said as much in her vlog, he points out). It was just gallows humor, a way of coping, she admits: “A week after I made that stupid comment, my son, my beautiful baby boy, died, and I will never… I will regret saying that every day for the rest of my life.”
NEXT: Justice isn’t always black and white
Meanwhile, Frankie and Tess track down “rock-star toxicologist” Dr. Jane Soto, who was hired by Penny’s original lawyer as a medical expert but never testified (suggesting the doc found something that might not be good for Penny). As it turns out, the amount of soy sauce Owen ingested would have been fatal — IF it had a chance to metabolize. No, Owen’s cause of death wasn’t a sodium overdose: He died from a fatal injection of insulin, according to Dr. Soto, proving it wasn’t an accident. Owen was, indeed, murdered. But did Penny have access to insulin? If not her, then who?
The team considers alternate suspects, starting with Owen’s dad, Greg. Though it’s discovered Greg was having an affair at the time of Owen’s murder — with a woman who “all but asked him to bump off his son,” as Hayes puts it — Tess and Frankie’s reenactment of this theory shows that Greg couldn’t have killed his son. (Sidenote: While I admire Hayes for blatantly asking Greg if he was guilty, I sincerely doubt the plausibility of the scene. Would you confront a murder suspect in such a casual manner? Yeah, me neither.)
The investigation then turns to Owen’s home health-care aide, Eduardo Peligro. Tess thinks she found him online, posting comments on the “Mother’s Little Burden” vlog, and Hayes (after squaring off with a Judge McCutcheon, who first attempts to school her on constitutional privacy rights) secures a warrant for Eduardo’s Internet service provider so they can learn his exact location. In the meantime, they gain access to his text messages and find one in which Eduardo said he hoped Owen “could go to a better place.” Sounds suspicious to me, especially when coupled with the fact his sister, Jasmine, was admitted to the hospital in a diabetic coma the day after the murder.
While interviewing Eduardo in his East Harlem apartment, they learn Jasmine’s insulin kit went missing on the very day Owen died. Eduardo insists he thought of Owen as his own son, claiming their two families were close — especially Jasmine and Emily, who were best friends. You can see alarm bells go off in Hayes’ head, and she asks if Emily was at Peligro’s apartment that day. Not only was she there, but Jasmine also says Emily had given her insulin shots before. Emily had the means, motive (all of Penny’s attention was focused on Owen, and Emily suffered as a result), and opportunity to kill her brother. BINGO: We have our murderer.
Hayes drops in on Emily’s jail visit with her mom to deliver the news. But when a tearful Emily confesses, Penny immediately opts to stay in prison and take the fall. “My daughter deserves a life,” she says. And with that, justice is served — or is it?
NEXT: It’s Jackson, Mr. Morrison if you’re nasty
Because she’s working on the Penny Price case — the episode’s most interesting story line — Hayes has limited time to prep for her big damage-control interview on national TV, much to her brother’s chagrin. Said interview, pushed on her by Conner in an attempt to mitigate the fallout of last week’s reveal, starts with Hayes perched on the edge of her seat, the perfect picture of poise (complete with her mother’s pearls, natch) as she delivers fake but expertly crafted one-liners to the reporter.
But the dude (some guy named Wallace, I think) keeps pushing her to admit she’s subject to a different set of rules than the ones faced by her own clients. A fidgety Hayes twirls her pearls around in her fingers, a telltale sign she’s about to go off the rails. When the necklace breaks, scattering pearls all over the floor, her careful facade comes crashing down and she delivers a badass monologue confessing her own privilege:
“Rich, famous, powerful people get away with murder all the time, sometimes literally. Coke in the purse, insider trading, sexual assault, you name it. I screw up and because of my last name, the cops call the D.A., he calls my mom, strings are pulled. I’m out on the street in an hour with a new job. A job I initially had no interest in. Funny thing is, I like causing trouble, busting the system, exposing wrongful convictions. It kinda gets me off. So really, it worked for me again. Now, hopefully, it’s also a bonus to people like Penny Price, a mom accused of killing her own son, to have me on their side. Because I may be a hot mess, but I’m a hot mess with privilege. And since Penny Price has none, the least I can do is lend her some of mine. Any more questions?”
The great scene shows a spark of what I hope will continue in future episodes. And yet, despite the public’s positive response — #HayesKeepsItReal is trending on Twitter — the price may be too great for Hayes. Earlier in the episode, she and Conner had exchanged some frisky banter (“dirty, dirty flirting…hot” is what I wrote in my notes), but after Hayes’ word vomit on national TV, Conner learns his career’s in danger. “Scandal like this, someone has to pay,” he tells her when she pays him a visit to offer a letter resignation, which he declines. “And while you skate, like you have your entire life, I am going to be investigated by the Department of Justice for misconduct and corruption… They’ll just be going through every case I’ve ever touched, hoping to find something to hang me with.”
And then, Conner kicks Hayes out of his office. But when she trudges home, olive tree in hand as an apology gift for Jackson (who had spent the entire episode helping Hayes get ready for the interview, only to have her opt for an improvisational performance instead), she discovers she’s not welcome. The doorman reluctantly says Jackson told him not to let her in, and Hayes spots some suitcases containing her belongings a few feet away. As her eyes well with tears, she realizes: Her brother has kicked her out of their apartment.
The doorman offers to call Hayes a cab, but she declines. The episode fades to black as Hayes walks away aimlessly, olive tree still in hand, seemingly nowhere to go. She still has her job, sure, but at what price?
Episode 4 Case Notes:
- Hayes to Jackson, as she runs out of an interview prep session: “Duty calls! Talk to Maxine. You keep saying you need more black friends.”
Jackson: “I haven’t been saying that.”
Maxine: “You probably should.”
- “That was solid. Now just a little more shame and you’ll be good to go.” —Jackson to Hayes, as she practices her answers for the interview
- “Some of us were too fat and effeminate to be used as show ponies, at least after the age of 11.” —Jackson to Hayes (Are you sensing a pattern yet?)
- Hayes: “Bet you’re excited for a new boss.”
Maxine: “I was just getting to like the old one.”