Things get personal, as both Seth and Jill take on cases that hit close to home.
Things are getting personal for Assistant District Attorney Seth Oliver. After a mother-son video chat, in which Seth tries his hardest to show his mom that his new apartment (adios, podiatrist!) is all set up and simply wonderful, Mrs. Oliver fills her son in on the local hot gossip. It’s not good. Kappler-Hays, a big aerospace corporation that moved into town a few years ago, has apparently been dumping chemicals into the water supply — a bunch of kids at Seth’s old school, Carver Elementary, are critically ill. Can’t Seth do something about it?
Seth brings the case to Roger. Kappler-Hays is headquartered in Manhattan and violating a hella ton of E.P.A. laws — they can take this on. Roger isn’t very enthused about any ideas Seth has, ever, but he figures that it won’t matter if Seth wins this case, as long as he goes the distance, much like Rocky. The analogy is confusing for Seth who has only seen Rocky IV, because, sure.
Almost as soon as Seth has the go-ahead from Roger, Leonard reminds Seth that this case is HUGE and every firm in Manhattan is battling it out to represent Kappler-Hays. Leonard is such a good friend! Unfortunately for Seth, the one firm that does land the case is the one firm he’d rather not: his former employer, Stillman. Seth meets an old colleague — Todd Hardart or Hardheart, no one really knows not even Todd — and this guy is the actual worst. He orders Seth’s lunch — yeah, that pork chop is probably delicious but Seth is an adult — and then proceeds to make Seth feel pretty terrible about himself in a very underhanded, smarmy way. He tells Seth that they all want the same thing, to help those sick kids, and that the CEO has already ponied up $50 million to help with costs. The community will be taken care of, as long as Seth doesn’t get ahead of himself and file actual charges. No, that wouldn’t be good for anyone. And Todd knows Seth will comply because Todd knows exactly what kind of lawyer Seth is.
The whole meeting puts nice, kind Seth in a mood. The only person he wants to talk to is Allison, even though it is totally weird and Allison isn’t into it. You guys! These two need to reconcile at some point, right? There is too much chemistry to make this breakup final! Anyway, Seth needs advice. His whole life plan was to be a federal prosecutor for a few years and then go back to his old firm as a partner. If he does what he wants to with this case — file charges so he can go for more money and a tougher punishment — that is definitely out of the question. Allison tells her ex that maybe his old plan was a bad plan and that he shouldn’t be scared of standing up to Kappler-Hays. He shouldn’t let them underestimate him, like Allison did.
And so, after a night of chugging energy drinks and watching extremely sad victim stories, Seth is ready to go all Erin Brockovich on Kappler-Hays. He is filing criminal charges against the CEO, Jack Lewis. Seth can prove Lewis knew about the chemicals and did nothing to stop it because it would be too expensive. He knows they’ll take a plea deal to minimize jail time and Seth will get to send a message out to big corporations. Seth isn’t messing around.
Unfortunately, neither is Todd. He meets with Seth, ostensibly to talk about a deal, but instead he really lays into Seth. But he does it all with a smile on his face, which is definitely worse. He lets Seth know that Roger didn’t even want to hire Seth. Todd, who worked in the federal prosecutor’s office, had to beg Roger to consider Seth. And now, by filing charges and making this a personal attack against Jack Lewis, Seth is completely blowing up his future: Once Todd is done with him in court — no, they aren’t taking a deal — no one will want Seth. Todd is actually impressed. Poor Seth! He looks like he’s been run over by a truck.
The trial begins and things go downhill, fast. Every witness Seth puts on the stand gets discredited by Todd. He is losing. Seth takes a nice, long brood sesh in his office, where he is visited by secret friend Blunt Cut. She cannot stand to see Seth so sad; it, like, disrupts the force. So she puts aside her “no talking to colleagues” rule and helps Seth. Seth feels like he’s letting everyone down and he is proving Todd right — this is why Roger didn’t want to hire him. Kate tells him that he can’t just give up. He needs to get angry and do something about it. (Not for nothing, but Kate Littlejohn is the best character on this show, right?) Together, they realize that they need to call in a star witness: The former secretary Jack Lewis once threw bacon on when she messed up his breakfast sandwich order. Jack Lewis loves two things in this world: violating the Clean Water Act and breakfast sandwiches.
The secretary is a slam dunk. She proves that Jack Lewis knew everything and made the decision to not do anything about it. Seth gets a very personal closing argument moment. He talks about the tradition of the library water fountain at Carver Elementary and about the terrible things Jack Lewis has allowed to happen. Mostly though, he talks about Carver being an unremarkable school, but a school with a lot of heart and character. Which is to say, he’s talking about himself, you guys. He even gets teary-eyed! It’s actually very moving and nice to finally see Seth get a win.
So, yes, Lewis is found guilty and given jail time as well as being forced to pay fines of $150 million. Seth gets wins elsewhere, too. Roger is impressed with this new Seth Oliver. Seth informs his boss that he’ll never watch Rocky because he doesn’t care about “going the distance,” Seth is a winner and Roger needs to know that. I mean, the first Rocky is excellent and Seth should try it sometime, but, sure, we get his point. The confidence booster bleeds over into his personal life, as well. He meets with Allison again and tells her he knows it’s wrong to lean on her, especially when he’s the one who left. He isn’t being fair to either of them. Allison knows, once again, just how much she underestimated Seth. Everyone did! It seems like Seth won’t let that happen anymore, and he takes in his Very Big Day by cracking open a beer and sitting down to watch Rocky IV. Hey, we all have our things.
The other big case belongs to Jill Carlan — yes, the adults can play, too! She is defending Chloe Daniels, who stabbed a mail carrier in the neck with a letter opener. The guy might die. Chloe claims that she did it out of self-defense, but there are a lot of inconsistencies in her story. When Chloe doesn’t show up at the office for a meeting and Jill finds her lost and confused in a subway station after almost jumping in front of a train, Jill knows something is really wrong. She takes Chloe to get a psych evaluation, but the results are inconclusive. (Side nugget: there is a throw away line about Sandra not attending the evaluation because she really hates hospitals. File this away under tragic backstory tidbits. It will come up later.)
Jill starts questioning Chloe, who has heard it all before. No one believes her story, ever. She get confused easily, she has periods of black outs. Her marriage ended because of it. Her son wants nothing to do with her. She is used to people thinking she is a liar. But when Jill finds out about Chloe’s background as a college cheerleader, she thinks she may have solved the case.
Jill thinks Chloe has chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. You typically hear about CTE in football players, after years of sustaining concussions, but it is just as common in cheerleaders. It would explain all of Chloe’s behavior. The only problem? The only approved way of diagnosing CTE is at time of death, with an autopsy. Since Chloe isn’t going to wait around to die in order to prove she has a mental disorder that caused her to act violently, Jill takes Chloe to a specialist who is developing a way to diagnose the disorder before death. And Jill is right — Chloe has CTE.
It’ll be hard to make the experimental test admissible in court, but Jill certainly tries her hardest. Like all Shondaland characters, Jill Carlan gives a good speech. She reminds the judge that tests for all kinds of mental disorders were experimental to begin with and people are living on the streets because they have no idea that there are pills and tests out there that could help them. Mental illness is problematic. Why should Chloe be unable to properly defend herself because we don’t know enough about CTE? She is going to die from it; all they are deciding is if she dies in jail or not. The speech works and Chloe is granted a deferred prosecution.
In case you hadn’t guessed, this case is very personal for Jill. She reveals to Sandra that she has a sister who is just like Chloe and has no idea where her sister is. Jill helps Chloe get set up in her apartment and makes her promise to call if she needs anything. Jill knows Chloe is all alone in this world and her disease is only going to get worse. This whole thing hits home hard.
In non-case news, we get some excellent personal developments. Clerk Krissman is going about her job, spinning her wheel to assign trial judges at random, when the wheel breaks. Judge Byrne is pretty excited because this means that they will finally join the rest of the world and go automated. But this wheel is more than a wheel to Krissman. She brings it to the man who made it and thankfully, he can fix it. But Krissman’s attachment isn’t just because she likes well-crafted woodwork, it is deeper than that. She used to bring the wheel home — yes, Judge Byrne, she knows that is a felony — and she and her husband would use it to make small decisions in their life, like what movie to watch. It became a part of their family traditions; her son even used it to pick a college. The wheel always knows best. They even used it once her husband got sick, up until he died. So, there it is. Krissman’s grief and memories with her late husband are tied up in that wheel. And you thought it had power before!
The biggest news to come out of this episode is that Kate Littlejohn is in love…with Leonard! She even “sends up a test balloon” to see if he takes any interest in joining her for dinner. He does not. HOWEVER, he definitely knows what she’s doing. What will Leonard do now that he realizes Kate is interested in him romantically? Should these two hook up? Is there someone out there who is a better match for Kate Littlejohn? I have no answers to these questions, but I am very, very intrigued by this development.