Getting arrested turns out to be a blessing in disguise for a former First Daughter
The series premiere of Conviction, starring Hayley Atwell (from the criminally underrated and dearly departed Agent Carter), arrives at just the right time with the right mix of ingredients: A disaffected former First Daughter with a brilliant legal mind and a penchant for partying; a former First Lady running for office (sound familiar?) who wants to keep secret her daughter’s wild-child ways; and an always-compelling premise that centers on a ragtag legal team investigating old (and, possibly, wrongfully resolved) criminal cases.
In other words, it’s got everything — a strong female lead, a talented supporting cast, political intrigue, criminal justice, and (already!) the makings of a will-they-or-won’t-they romance or two. But I’m getting ahead of myself… Allow me to introduce you to the key characters now taking up residence on your TV in the Monday Castle timeslot:
Meet the Players
NEXT: Was justice already served in the CIU’s first case?
Case No. 1: Odell Dwyer
Conner instructs Hayes to give him a happy ending with the CIU’s first case, and the clock is ticking: They only have five days to see if the original conviction holds up. In the case of Odell Dwyer, convicted for the murder of his high-school girlfriend eight years prior, his guilt or innocence is up in the air for much of the episode. For every piece of evidence that suggests he was wrongfully convicted — his whereabouts on the night in question make it unlikely he could be at the scene of the crime, at least according to the prosecution’s timeline — there’s another that seems to reinforce his guilt, like his status as a onetime steroid user and the fact he tried to buy a gun from his drug dealer. For what it’s worth, I found Odell to be warm and believable right off the bat — the perfect “good-looking black poster boy” Hayes later describes him to be.
The team goes to work examining the evidence with the goal of proving or disproving everything used in Odell’s conviction: the time of death of his then-girlfriend, Anna; the existence of a motive; Anna’s diary entries that showed she was afraid of someone, presumed to be Odell; eyewitness testimony; and Odell’s lack of alibi. Though he’s been up for parole already, he refuses to go in front of the parole board, saying he can’t admit regret for a crime he didn’t commit.
At first, Hayes is reluctant to lead the CIU, preferring to assume the role of figurehead and coast while the others do the real work. She even pushes Conner to fire her by snorting what looks like cocaine in front of him, right off the D.A.’s desk. In a scene rife with tension, Conner licks the substance off her finger and says it isn’t coke, calling her bluff. I definitely expected them to kiss right then, but alas, we’ll have to wait and see if these adversarial colleagues resume what was once clearly a relationship, at least a sexual one.
Eventually, though, Hayes comes around and seems eager to prove her abilities — to Conner, to her team, to her Senate-candidate mother who pushes her to do more with her life. She visits Odell in prison and becomes convinced of his innocence, and that’s when the CIU’s investigation takes a turn. The team quickly identifies another potential suspect — whom Anna was really writing about in her diary — and thanks in part to Hayes’ recognizable celebrity, they find the gun used in the crime and succeed in getting Odell’s conviction overturned. Conner gets his happy ending, to be sure, but Hayes is also pleased with her team’s success, and it gives her a taste of the kind of real change she could affect with her new job.
After another confrontation between Conner and Hayes — in which Hayes says she’s going to do the job her way, Conner’s blackmailing be damned — we close on a conference table at the CIU office, covered with case files for the team to examine. Hayes surveys the work in front of her, smiles slightly, and says “Who’s next?”
I won’t lie… Conviction seems a little formulaic at times, no doubt because of ABC’s desire to replicate the success of Shondaland without, well, Shonda Rhimes at the helm. But Atwell turns in a captivating performance as Hayes, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing the other characters’ backstories. Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of setting innocent people free? Pilots are notorious for trying to cram too much story into too little airtime, so I’m hoping next week’s episode dives a little more into the existing characters before introducing any new faces — besides, of course, the case/defendant of the week.
What’s your verdict on Conviction? Will you be tuning in next week?