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H:LOTS – S05E12 – “Betrayal”

November 24, 2010

Clark Johnson directs this Bayliss and Pembleton well paced episode, which finds the dynamic duo called to yet another crime scene involving a young girl. Bayliss leads the investigation, causing some concern amongst Gee and Howard, who question Bayliss’ judgment. “Work this case,” Pembleton says to Bayliss, while trying to avoid mention of Adena Watson. Adena Watson’s still unsolved murder looms large for Bayliss and each time a child is murdered and he’s involved in the investigation there is a rush to wrangle the case away from him. Howard is more cautious in her approach with Bayliss, where as both Gee and Pembleton attempt to challenge Bayliss’ assumptions about the case head on.

Howard and Munch canvas the neighborhood and find inconsistencies with the narrative provided by the victim’s mother and the neighbors. Bayliss corners the victim’s mother in the box in a chilling scene where Bayliss melts down while screaming accusations at the mother. Pembleton, on the other hand is not convinced of the version of events as understood by Bayliss, who has taken to going off on every single witness or suspect he questions. Bayliss is personalizing the crime in a way that goes beyond his torment over the Watson case.

As the episode unfolds, the mother begins to tell her story of needing to keep her family together. Pembleton plays good cop and allows the mother to speak about the life she attempted to create with her boyfriend and how sometimes she believed her daughter – the murder victim – was doing whatever she could to ruin her mother’s new found love. Except the stories don’t add up. Bayliss is getting nowhere with the boyfriend, who insists he had nothing to do with the child’s death. Pitting partner against partner, Bayliss and Pembleton begin to unravel the conflicting statements of the mother and the boyfriend. Despite the increasing tension between Bayliss and Pembleton, they are able to draw the truth out of the boyfriend who is finally felled by his own belt.

But it’s not all dour. Kellerman is finally cleared of corruption charges that have dogged him for the last few episodes. Unfortunately, being cleared has not made Kellerman feel any more relieved to have the situation over. Instead, it raises more doubts.

The final scene of the episode is perhaps the most tragic. Bayliss sits outside, drinking beer when he’s happened upon by Pembleton. Drunken confessions never have great outcomes and Bayliss’ drunken confession is no exception. Bayliss breaks down and reveals that he was the victim of years of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of his uncle. The most heartbreaking revelation was not merely the abuse, but the way in which Bayliss’ family – particularly his father – responded when Bayliss was finally able to speak up. Bayliss’ father accused him of lying and the subject was never given any further discussion. After disclosing his past victimization, Bayliss abruptly informs Pembleton that he longer wishes to be partners with him, leaving Pembleton to watch Bayliss walk away in stunned silence.

Bayliss’ shame and loneliness are unflinching and devastating. Nothing about the way the scene unfolds feels forced or cloying. In addition, everything about the way in which Bayliss’ character has developed over the course of five seasons has led to this moment and it is utterly crushing. The passion that has always informed Bayliss’ police work has long felt tied to events of Bayliss’ past he refused to talk about. The scene is brilliant executed by actors Kyle Secor and Andre Braugher and Johnson’s careful direction stays out of the way. The treatment of childhood sexual abuse from a male survivor’s viewpoint is given serious consideration; I cannot stress this enough. It is not used as merely a plot point to prop up a meandering character arc, but brings Bayliss full circle, but with devastating results for the intimate partnership between himself and Pembleton.

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