There is one character who never appears on-screen but has clearly impacted every character, Caroline Strait. Elijah’s late wife obviously shaped his life and Sydney’s but the indelible mark she left on the others speaks volumes. Following her sudden death, Elijah found a case she left marked for Jake. A teacher she believed to be wrongly convicted in the death of a student. When Elijah hands him the case, Jake asks “why me”? Jake hasn’t handled criminal cases in a while, so it seems like a better fit for someone else. Elijah’s only answer that his wife was a genius at matching people to a purpose.
The first meeting doesn’t go as Jake expected. His client is uninterested in his help and still claims guilt. But the evidence Jake has doesn’t add up. With a little help from Sydney, he gets a look at the case files from Robbie, the Chief of Detectives (and Sydney’s ex-husband). Jake is perplexed. The evidence suggests he is innocent, but George Bell contends he is guilty. Jake looks to Della for advice. Della is skilled at cutting straight to the point. As an expert in trust and estate law, Della talks about end of life issues regularly, but she finds that legacy is the real key to what people want. What legacy are they going to leave? Why did he choose guilty as his legacy? Our rainmaker is chasing his own cause now. How to help someone who doesn’t want help.
After fixing George’s applesauce dilemma, Jake cuts straight to the point with George. George didn’t start telling people he was guilty until after he was convicted. In doing so, he released his daughter and son from waiting for him and allowed them a freedom to move forward with their lives. Jake tells George that they have. She remarried and had a family, his son is a sophomore at Georgetown, they live “rich, beautiful, messy” lives and Jake thinks it is time George has one too. In that moment, George decides to fight for himself with Jake’s help.
What did he call you?
In the closing scene, Elijah and Sydney are at the office on a Saturday. They talk a bit about how it will take some time to figure out their “new normal” in the wake of Caroline’s death. Sydney pivots to discuss changes to the firm: car allowance, vacation… Elijah scoffs at the very mention of either of these. Emerson enters with a simple question:
Hey Dad, how long are you staying today?
First, I love it, I’m all in. Let’s change the world.
More objectively, this pilot gives us a fantastic character backstory and leaves so many directions for the writers to take these characters, I for one, can’t wait. Jimmy Smits is the perfect casting for Elijah Strait. He plays all the parts of the character well, the hero and inspirer, the estranged dad, the complicated husband, grieving widower and firm leader, each part unique but creates one very complicated character. Caitlin McGee is a joy to watch. Young and determined, tireless in her fight, willful and not at all a wallflower. It is just what we need for Sydney Strait as she works through issues about her whole family. Barry Sloane brings just the right edge to Jake Reilly. Just hard enough to be the tough guy when necessary, but what Caroline saw underneath is a crusader in his own right. It is easy enough to see it in Sydney, it is practically genetic, but for Jake, the crusader/hero role is something he has just tried on (at least given what we know so far) and he isn’t sure how it fits. It looks good on him from here.
Michael Luwoye brings a quiet fire to Anthony and I can’t wait to see what his next case is. We know a little of his backstory, married, four kids and a seemingly fierce sense of family. That is sure to shape his efforts in the courtroom and maybe will make him the glue for this firm. We don’t see a ton from MaameYaa Boafo as Briana or Stony Blyden as Emerson, but that bombshell suggests that we will see more from him soon. Both characters are key pieces for cases and the firm and look to play critical roles as the show progresses.
Finally, we have Jayne Atkinson as Della Bedford. I love all these characters, but Della may be my favorite. Please give us a case that she is first chair, I want to see one of her courtroom speeches!!! Rather than a matriarchal role, Della has a wise counsel role. She is kind, but no-nonsense. She loves deeply but will put you in line and that is what we know from just this episode. I think Jayne Atkinson has the most complex role in the show. Southern woman, with a son (assume divorced), happily married to her wife. That is a backstory we need and quite a character to mentor the firm. Her wisdom is likely hard won from life experiences. I’ll take all the Della I can get on the screen.
One other silent character is Memphis itself. The show is being shot in Memphis and they are making some good use of the city as a character. The show feels very Memphis in nature, with the river, the music and the food. I expect Memphis to play its own role in each episode as it shapes, the who, what and where for our world changers. Dean Georgaris has given us another gem in Bluff City Law and I can’t wait to be back in the courtroom next week. Let’s change the world every Monday night at 10pm on NBC.
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