With a murderer on the loose, the stakes have never been higher for the CIU.
Credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg
S1 E11
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Well, it happened. Hayes and Conner are a couple, a development I spent the first 10 episodes of Conviction rooting for. However, given the really boring conversations they’re now having about Conner’s interest in boxing — it’s great cardio! — and the possible discovery of Amelia Earhart’s skeletal remains, I think I preferred it when they spent their time arguing and denying their true feelings. Domestic bliss may be their idea of #relationshipgoals, but it’s not too interesting to watch. Sigh.

Generally, though, it was a good episode, which upped the stakes a bit by putting the CIU in the middle of an active homicide investigation in which the M.O. resembles that of an infamous serial killer who everyone thought was behind bars. Could the latest murder be the work of a copycat, or has the wrong man spent the last 10 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit?

Let’s find out.

Case No. 11: The Black Orchid Killer

Hayes awakens from a sleepover with Conner to find some urgent text messages from her missing beau. He asks her to meet him at an active crime scene, where the dark-haired, blue-eyed Marla Higgins was found bludgeoned to death in her home. Her physical characteristics and the circumstances of the murder — right down to the smearing of Black Orchid #4 lipstick on her mouth — bear an eery resemblance to killings committed a decade prior by someone known as the Black Orchid Killer (BOK).

NYPD Det. Nick Cestero is on the scene and insists Higgins is the victim of a copycat, as Cestero himself put away Clark Sims for the original murders 10 years ago. “Or maybe you put the wrong guy in jail,” Hayes smarts. DA Wallace snaps into business mode, assigning the CIU to investigate Sims’ conviction and telling Cestero to find whoever killed Higgins, since either way, “We’ve got a murderer on the loose.” (Perfect time to play the legendary “dun dun” sound effect from Law and Order, but no such luck.)

This is when we learn mild-mannered Tess has a macabre fascination with serial killers. By the time the rest of the team assembles at the CIU offices, she’s already covered the whiteboard in crime scene photos and other evidence from the 2006 murders, some of which is from her own “personal research.” (I shouldn’t judge, as I, too, have found myself in a deep Wikipedia hole reading about the likes of Ted Bundy and Charles Manson.) Either way, Tess says she’s always doubted Sims’ guilt and Sam (surprise, surprise) counters that Sims fits the FBI profile for BOK to a T.

The gang splits up, with Frankie and Hayes notifying the sole surviving victim of the 2006 murders, Maxine heading to Higgins’ home, and Sam and Tess paying Sims a visit in prison. Nothing earth-shattering is revealed at these initial destinations — Sims comes off a bit strange but insists he’s innocent; survivor May Defranco spent a year in a coma and now lives in a home with some serious security reinforcements, including a front-door camera and bars on the windows; our girl Max used to date Cestero back in the day. (Meh. She could do better.)

Later that evening, as Hayes and Conner try to enjoy dinner without talking about work, Sims gives an exclusive telephone interview from prison to announce he is, indeed, BOK. Tess is all like, “Say it ain’t so, Clark!” And as it turns out, she’s right: After spending 10 years behind bars, Sims is simply scared of what awaits him on the outside. He knows he’s strange and never quite fit in; he finds comfort in the routines of prison. Tess pleads for the truth and after she sweetly tells him the CIU will get him into a reintegration program upon his release, he relents: “I didn’t kill anybody.”

I believe him, but for once, I’d kinda like the CIU to get assigned a case in which the defendant is 100-percent guilty. I think it’d be a nice change of pace.

NEXT: Where are Benson and Stabler when you need them?

Bit by bit, the CIU tears holes in the evidence against Sims, even justifying the presence of his fingerprint inside the window at victim no. 2’s townhouse. (Before he was arrested, Sims worked for a company that delivered various home fixtures — including double-paned windows — all over New York City. Said windows were installed at victim no. 2’s house five months before her murder, explaining how his fingerprint ended up inside of her home despite Sims never being there.)

Meanwhile, Cestero arrests a suspect in Higgins’ murder, and while the guy (Joe Kaplan) is definitely a little creepy, it’s pretty clear he’s not BOK. The detective requires some convincing, though, so Frankie sets up an experiment to demonstrate that Kaplan wasn’t physically capable of murdering Martha — or any of the other victims, for that matter. A childhood injury made it so Kaplan couldn’t raise his right dominant arm above his head, leaving him without the strength to inflict the kind of force needed to crack someone’s skull. (The more you know, I guess.)

With Cestero out of leads and serious doubts cast upon Sims’ guilt, Conner insists the CIU and NYPD work together to find the real killer. Serial-killer expert Tess thinks they should look at the 10-year hiatus between the original third victim and the latest murder. Why would someone with a taste for killing hang up his hat for so long? (If this were Benson and Stabler, they would have considered this question an hour ago, but I digress.) Frankie comes through with the win, suggesting BOK was maybe incarcerated during that time and only recently got out of prison. Ding ding ding!

So, the team is looking for a white male of a certain age and height who was arrested shortly after the third murder and released just before Marla’s untimely demise. Despite there being literally thousands of inmates who fit those parameters, it doesn’t take long for Tess to identify the most likely suspect. And it just so happens to be someone we’ve seen before: Donald Cutler, a witness who told Cestero he saw a blood-covered Kaplan running away from Marla’s apartment. The CIU interviewed Cutler earlier, before Frankie’s cool-but-creepy demonstration with the test dummies ruled out Kaplan as a suspect.

Max and Cestero head to Cutler’s apartment and find a drawing depicting the layout of Defranco’s home. Correctly surmising Cutler wants to finish what he started all those years ago, they rush to Defranco’s — but they’re too late. A dead Cutler is lying on the floor, having been shot by a finally free Defranco. Score another one for the good guys!

As do most episodes of Conviction, tonight’s hour ends with an obviously apprehensive Sims getting released from prison and an admittedly adorable Hayes and Conner agreeing there’s no way they can avoid talking about work. Hopefully, a little disagreement between boss and subordinate will bring back some of that fiery passion that was sorely lacking between them tonight. There are only two episodes left, and I want some fireworks, darn it!

Episode 11 Case Notes:

  • Hayes, upon meeting Conner at Marla Higgins’ apartment: “I was hoping for brunch, but active crime scene is a close second.”
  • Tess, requesting permission to visit Clark Sims in prison: “I’d like to talk to him.”
    Hayes: “Sure, and I’m not just saying that because I am now scared of you.”

Episode Recaps

Hayley Atwell stars as a former first daughter in this ABC legal drama.
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