Proven Innocent - 1.02 - The Burden of Truth - Review By Dahne1 (February 28, 2019, 11:15 pm)
Violet: “People say the truth will set you free, so what happens when telling the truth is what ends up costing you your freedom?”
Case = Tamara Folsom
In this episode of Proven Innocent, Maddie and company attempt to clear the name of Tamara Folsom. She is currently doing life for the murder of a man she says she never met. Instead, she claims that she fought off an attempted rapist. The problem is that the dead man had his throat slit right at the time that Tamara claimed she knifed her attacker in the throat. To the police, this was a confession but Maddie disagrees. Her first plan is to find the man that Tamara actually did cut. Enter Jeff Skadden, an attempted rapist with a unique scar. Maddie attempts to trick him into receiving a summons to appear in court by pretending to get drunk with him. Sadly, he may be drunk and stupid but he’s still quick. After belting Maddie one, he runs and shows his proclivity for fence jumping. Alas, Maddie is not so good at it and ends up with torn jeans and a gash on her leg for her trouble. Strike one. As Bodie puts it: “We’ll live to fight another day.” At least she got a selfie of Skadden and his scar. When Maddie and Easy go to interview Tamara in prison again, she identifies him as her attacker. Tamara’s less impressed that they let Skadden get away though.
Under the guise of Easy coaching Tamara for her re-trial, she exposits that in her neighborhood people always carry a knife and she was proud to defend herself against a rapist. Her stepdad molested her and she vowed to never be in that position again. Maddie: “Tamara, we hear you, we believe you, and we’re gonna do everything we can to get you the hell out of here.” That includes nailing Tamara’s public defender for being too lazy to do anything in Tamara’s defense. He didn’t look for the man Tamara said she attacked or check the DNA collected. In his defense, he was balancing 72 other cases that month, but Tamara definitely deserved better and Maddie skewers him for it. Bad counsel alone though is not enough to get the judge to commit to a new trial. He wants to hear from Skadden and Easy wants access to the DNA. They now have a couple of days to find Skadden and mount their defense.
Meanwhile Levi has his own legal troubles for assaulting Brian Husband in the pilot. It’s here that this episode is at its weakest. Maddie rushes to the courthouse to represent Levi and stumbles onto an interview Heather Husband is giving. She maintains that Levi killed Rosemary and should never have been released. Heather: “Once a killer, always a killer.” However, she conveniently leaves out how her husband goaded Levi into hitting him. Maddie and Heather have a verbal cat fight, but the whole thing would have been better played in a flashback. Otherwise, there’s no real context for the animosity between them. If Heather were related to Rosemary there would be some foundation, but right now, the only conclusion I can come up with for her bizarre antagonistic behavior is that either she or her husband is the real killer and they can’t afford to have the case reopened. Either that or the Scott siblings got out on a technicality, but that seems unlikely given Maddie’s role as the face of an unjust legal system. Future episodes need to flesh out the Husbands because right now they are stereotypically evil and paper thin, almost cartoonish, and it makes every scene with them a chore. Not that Levi, the drugged out idiot, is making things any easier. He fails to show up at court so a warrant is issued for him.
Back on Tamara’s case, Easy and Maddie attempt to test the DNA evidence but it has mysteriously vanished. ASA Green: “The evidence is missing without explanation.” Maddie: “The evidence has been taken and in all probability destroyed to keep an innocent woman in prison.” ASA Green: “You have no evidence of that.” Maddie: “We have no evidence at all.” Ouch! It doesn’t take someone already burned by the system to find this suspicious. The next morning, Easy has suspicions of his own. While the family eats breakfast, his daughter mentions that she doesn’t want to carpool with Sophie because her dad’s car smells funny. Easy automatically starts digging for information, but all that reveals is how out of touch he is with his family these days. Easy, about his son: “You know it’s like he’s not even here.” Easy’s wife: “Oh. Like father, like son.” Easy insists on meeting Sophie’s dad for dinner later in the week because “it doesn’t hurt to have a friend who’s a mechanic…” His wife is not buying it and she’s obviously unhappy in the marriage.
Since the DNA evidence is definitely out, the only way to get Tamara a new trial is to refind Skadden. Enter Bodie. He poses as a tour agent and lures Skadden in with the promise of a Hawaiian vacation, only to serve him the subpoena. Skadden doesn’t take it well. Bodie: “I could care less what you do, but if you fail to appear, they’re just gonna issue a warrant and you’ll be running from bounty hunters for the next decade.” Bodie should get a raise because he finally convinces Skadden to head to court. Unfortunately, both Maddie and Easy need a crash course with Jason Bull though, because no one has prepped Tamara to listen to Skadden’s testimony. She keeps shouting out, which does nothing to help her case. Neither does Maddie when she insults the judge for not assigning a retrial. I get that she’s a crusader but she has no common sense at times. The judge, however, seems to be willfully obtuse too. He equates someone holding off a rapist to showing “a pattern of violent aggression towards men.” This whole hearing feels off and way too rushed. I understand that this is just a small part of the episode but it feels thrown in as an after fact more than a foundation on which to set the episode. I know the writers wanted to focus on chasing down the real killer, but other shows manage to balance both better.
Heading from a disappointing trial, Maddie goes out to find her drugged-out brother in a homeless tenament camp. Not only do they discuss his big lie, but Maddie also points out the the motive in the prosecution’s case was actually correct. Her brother remains the prime suspect, especially in light of his relationship. Still, Maddie agrees to tackle the warrant but Levi is a mess right now. He really needs to make a new start somewhere else. Since she can’t make progress on either trial yet, Maddie spends her evening reminiscing about good times with Rosemary and the aftermath of her death. She never got to go to her funeral and in some ways, she’s still grieving. Her mom catches her looking at old photographs and urges Maddie to put the trial behind her, for Levi’s sake if nothing else. Then her mom makes the mistake of mentioning that the trial was hard on them too. Maddie goes off on her, saying that she lost her best friend and a decade of her life. That is true, but it also highlights how laser-focused Maddie is on her own anger. It makes her easy to pity, but it makes it hard for her to be a sympathetic character. I feel for her, but at the same time, I find her irritating and that’s a real issue for me. This scene also highlights how much we don’t know. If Levi is the one with motive, why was Maddie accused of murder too? She obviously found Levi with Rosemary’s body, but what linked her to the crime? Was she accused of being an accessory after the fact? I actually wish there were more flashbacks in this series to help fill in the gaps. Regardless, Maddie is not going to stop looking for Rosemary’s killer, even if it points to Levi.
Meanwhile, Bellows gets his own bad news. His polls are dropping. Previously in the episode, Maddie went on TV and tore into him, accusing him of being corrupt and incompetent. The more vocal Maddie is, the worse his numbers drop. Bellows does have an ally in the form of Isabel, his newest prosecutorial lawyer. Isabel is overly solicitous and plays right into Bellows’ ego, which makes me think she’s playing him. Bellows’ wife doesn’t trust Isabel either and wants her gone. (There has to be some backstory there that we don’t know about yet.) She also urges Bellows to fight dirty against Maddie but he is rightly afraid that it will make Madie look even more sympathetic. The solution - change the conversation to victims’ rights. Bellows gives a press conference about one of his first trials, where the defense attorney got a murderer off. One month later, the murderer shot Isabel’s mom while she was holding her. Bellows felt responsible so he stayed in contact with the family. He then introduces the press to Isabel, the anti-Maddie, an orphaned child who has decided to dedicate her life to finding justice for victims. It is a very smart plan.
The next morning, Maddie and Easy continue looking for Tim’s real murderer. They learn that one detective had a lead on his girlfriend, Celeste, who they track to a car dealership. Easy: “She’s a used car salesman. Definitely our killer.” Celeste admits that Tim beat her but she was in Florida helping her sick mom. She’s no killer but Maddie is sure she’s hiding something. While Easy looks into Celeste, Maddie can’t stop thinking of Levi’s lie. Easy is not surprised when he hears about it though. He suspected Levi was lying from the start. Since he was Maddie’s lawyer not Levi’s, he doesn’t care. Easy: “Just because he lied, doesn’t make him a killer.” Violet breaks in to remind Maddie that she has a date with the reporter and it is the most awkward thing ever. She overshares big time until it’s a disaster. At the same time, Easy remembers that he’s late to meet Sophie’s dad, AKA Carpool Guy. His wife is justifiably annoyed because he missed the dinner he insisted on having. They argue about how his commitment to the job overshadows his commitment to his family. Easy’s wife: “I mean it’s bad enough that you forget about us, but now you’ve let the whole world know that we are still an afterthought to the Redheaded Princess.” She’s also peeved that he helped Maddie get released instead of a black prisoner, but he explains that Maddie’s case was big enough that now he can help everyone. He likes the fame and making a difference, even if his wife is frustrated and wants him to see a therapist.
Maddie goes back to the office after her date disaster to find Violet researching Tamara’s case. Celeste is a call girl and Tim was her pimp. Bodie takes pictures of the dealership’s side brothel business until he is busted by the cops for loitering. Bodie: “Can’t a guy take pictures of hookers in peace anymore?” He also finds that the owner of the car dealership is not only Celeste’s husband but also her new pimp. Easy: “Marriage is a tricky business.” Ha! Furthermore, he married Celeste right after Tim’s death. It’s all very suspicious. Maddie is sympathetic to the prostitutes after her stint in prison. Easy: “Celeste doesn’t seem like the type of woman who wants to get out or turn on her handlers.” Maddie: “Agreed. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.” They agree to help but no one has a plan how. In the end, Maddie badgers Celeste into meeting with Tamara. Celeste claims she didn’t know that Tamara was arrested since she was in Florida. Maddie encourages Celeste to tell her life story, but she is too afraid to testify. Still, Maddie tells Tamara that it’s an opportunity anyway. They know what happened. Now they need proof. Maddie and Easy con the salesman/bodyguard into thinking that he will take the fall for Tim’s murder and so he confesses to watching Celeste’s husband do it. Since Maddie and Easy are wired, viola, case closed. Tamara is finally free. Maddie takes a step towards freedom too when she finally visits Rosemary’s grave to say goodbye and promise that she will find her killer.
Violent: “This week’s episode is a tale of two women who never met, but both were trapped in prison. One had her freedom taken away for no other reason than bad luck, and another was locked in a cycle of mental and physical abuse. What they have in common is the same monsters imprisoned them both with their lies. There is a gender bias that we see over and over again in wrongful conviction. Men are believed and women are ignored and it is the burden of hiding the truth that will tug on a person’s soul or irrevocably alter another’s life. But until we can speak our truth and have another human being not just listen to us but believe us, we can never be truly free.”
Overall, I think this series has potential. Generally procedurals are told from the prosecutor's side so it fills a void. The cases have been interesting and the Maddie vs. Bellows dynamic shines, especially if they both continue to have a story to tell. Maddie and Easy have good chemistry and I really like the secondary characters, Violet and Bodie. Violet’s podcast bookending the show works well too. The biggest issue lies in the writing for me. They try to throw too much into one episode and as such, the pacing gets wrecked. This may be a procedural show that would benefit from having its cases last 2-3 episodes before they move on to the next one. That would give them ample time to add in the character touches they love while still creating a compelling case narrative and allowing more background to the Rosemary mystery, which is also a strong suit. They need to tone Maddie down a touch as well. Passion is great for soundbites, but she gets out of control quickly, which is not a trait I would want in my lawyer. Also, I have no idea why they threw the race card in this episode. Sure, Easy did defend Maddie first but they have since cleared 2 African-American women. I find it hard to believe that anyone would find fault with Easy for this.
Best Scene - Maddie and Easy wear wires to get a confession Worst Scene - the date Funniest Scene - they all agree to help Celeste but no one has a plan how to do it Best Reason to Watch - the flashbacks that fill in pieces of the central mystery Biggest Issue - the pacing was rushed in some parts and dragged in others Best Character - tied - Bodie / Violet Worst Character - Heather and not just because she’s the antagonist Best Character Interaction - Maddie and Easy, who have good chemistry even when they’re not on the same page